"Spirituality of Non-Sacred Space: Sanctifying a More Socialist Agenda," by Kirsten Armstrong

 

"Spirituality of Non-Sacred Space: Sanctifying a More Socialist Agenda," by Kirsten Armstrong

The Centennial Hall was built for the 1913 centennial celebration of the defeat of Napoleon in an effort to define the city of Wroclaw, then Breslau, as a place of importance and prestige. As the place from which the call to arms against Napoleon came a link between the city and a significant moment in history created one compelling reason for the construction of the building. In light of relatively contemporary world exhibitions, creating a permanent exhibition center in Breslau for the advancement of the city in the future became another. Designed by Max Berg, the Centennial Hall broke from the regular tradition of German monuments. Where previously they had required time and money to visit and had been grandly ornamented, Centennial Hall became a modern monument to concrete construction right beside the city. Through the gradual stepping of the otherwise large dome and its more sprawling mass a separation was made between it and the more formally monumental past examples. This along with whisperings of a more socialist agenda created a certain level of discord between the city, people, and Kaiser.

The Centennial Hall is hailed as an ahistoric attempt at democratizing space by some scholars. For others, it is discussed in conjunction with Gothic influences through experience of the space and massing as opposed to ornamentation and style. There are brief mentions of the Hagia Sophia as being one of many domes looked to for inspiration. However, little is said about an influence that becomes apparent when both are visited and through writings of Berg on the spirituality of space. It appears there were tentative plans to later commission murals for the interior walls, a design scheme that compares to use of frescoes in Byzantine churches. Coupled with an interesting change of pace from architect to devotee of Christian mysticism in 1925 when he quit his job of chief city architect, there is a compelling feeling of sanctity to a space that is written about as a place for all despite social and class affiliations. Berg grappled with ideas of spirituality infusing it into his work with references to sacred sites and new interpretations of old religious structural schemes. I argue against those who call it ahistoric; through experience and massing the space within Centennial Hall becomes sacred, reminiscent of the Hagia Sophia, a connection that I will discuss at length through their aesthetics, approach, and intention of use. Though not part of an organized religion there is a grander mission for the Centennial Hall than merely an events center. Understanding of the influences of the hall as a spiritual community center may be able to shed light on the success of its use and preservation today.

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