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Semiotics of Religious Buildings This essay attempts to study the architecture religious buildings communicate

Semiotics of Religious Buildings
This essay attempts to study the architecture religious buildings communicate, “religion” meaning worship and spirituality. Religious buildings are built around a language of symbolism and semiotics which tend to communicate the traditional aspects of religious connotations handed down from generations as well as making the piece relevant to contemporary times simultaneously. It aims to study cathedrals and mosques architecture as decorative sheds from a different viewpoint. 
The Cathedral of Northern Lights
The Cathedral of Northern Lights built in 2013 in Alta, Norway and designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Link Arkitektur. The cathedral represents the town’s strong identity as an observation post for the northern lights phenomenon ‘Aurora Borealis’. With a spiraling body reaches upwards in a dynamic thrust, the cathedral winds up to form a pointed belfry 47 meters above the ground representing the nature of light as shown in (Figure 1). The building’s exterior gives a deceiving impression of a mosque with its sky-rocketing spiral and the dome-shaped spread which embraces the Aurora Borealis; a combination that is reminiscent of the minaret and dome of a mosque.

The main goal of the iconic Cathedral is to emphasize the awareness of the environmental spectacle of the city at a global level. The awareness of the environment of an area represents Edward Relphs definition of sense of place which says “Sense of place is an innate faculty, ..that connects us to the world. It is an integral part of our environmental experiences and it is only because we are first in places that we can then develop abstract arguments about the environment, economy, or politics.” (Relph, 1997) p.07. The idea of sense of place is realized as the building is embedded into the surrounding context and the use of the fundamentals of critical regionalism and vernacular language of the area through materiality as seen in (Figure 2 & 3). Schmidt Hammer Lassen stated that, ‘The Cathedral is made of raw concrete, titanium and wood, underpinning the key design concept: a church that resonates with its location.’ (Schmidt, 2013). The building is in cohesion with its context by the use of titanium cladding and ice sculptures adorning the entrance. (Figure 1).
The cathedral represents a decorative shed as it fluctuates with its purpose as a cathedral and a physical illustration of Aurora Borealis which seems to have gotten more prominence. As seen in (Figure 2) the cathedral’s nave, the placement of pipe organs, the unusual posture of Christ trying to break the restraints, the controlled dynamicity of lights, and the monotonous color palette is a paradoxical demonstration of the dynamic nature of Aurora Borealis.
The Cathedral of Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard
The Cathedral of Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard built in 2013, in Christchurch New Zealand designed by Shigeru Ban. It simplifies the idea of a cathedral into a triangular shed (Figure 4) and is a symbol of progress and redevelopment which the city was aiming to achieve after the earthquake of 2011. Takes the idea of the rose window it expands it into the whole façade inviting the visitor through the use of color and simplicity of form. Imparting a thought of intrigue, and an element of surprise, the building plays with the religious connotation of a cathedral. It is a peculiar example of the use of structure for aesthetic vocabulary and progress at a small scale, making it time-relevant. The frame structure of 98 equally sized cardboard tubes (Figure 5) not only serves the structural purpose but imparts a comfortable feeling into the cathedral.

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The Assyafaah Mosque
The deceptive form of the Northern light Cathedral sets the imagination to a mosque; a good example of a religious building that works with the connotation of deception is seen in Assyafaah Mosque built (2004) in Singapore by Forum Architects. The Mosque stands as an ‘alternative’ to the traditional mosque model with an ornate minaret, dome and arches. CITATION Aga07 l 1033 (Aga Khan , 2007) The mosque’s exterior easily deceives as a commercial place because of its massing, and toned-down color scheme but the tall minaret tricks the eye into a surprise.(Figure 6). The mosque is a well-articulated emblem of the universally recognizable Islamic art form of the arabesque, CITATION Aga07 l 1033 (Aga Khan , 2007) used on aluminum screens to create shadows, the scale of which emphasizes the idea of divinity dawning upon the submissive human. (Figure 7)
The building is more responsive to the progressive context of Singapore than to its reliance on obsolete forms for its typology. The grandeur, unusual vocabulary and controlled ornamentation manifests through its idea of becoming the identity of Muslims that form 10% of the population of the non-Muslim country. Multiplicity of connotations is prevalent in the building; the exposure of the brutal form of the structure imparts an unnerving stance of space and on the other hand a delicate feel is imparted by the light sieving through the Arabesque screens (Figure 7). The modern design invites people from all religions therefore serving as a communal space and a tool of global cohesion.
A comparison of the thresholds of Ban’s Cathedral to Northern lights Cathedral (Figure 1,4) discussed above highlights a contrast; where both the buildings utilize the advantage of their unusual forms making them stand out of their contexts but the Northern lights Cathedral with its relatively massive entrance does not seem inviting because of the undetailed planar system of the bridge and door, the Cardboard Cathedral on the other hand is more inviting because of the use of color and warm tones although it has a relatively unpronounced entryway. The Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard interior imparts a comfortable feeling into the cathedral in contrast to the dark interior of Northern lights Cathedral. It is a humanly nurtured, simplistic building articulated with the use of homogenous palette reflected even in the furniture (Figure 2, 5). With the use of similar tones although different geometries, Cathedral of Northern lights and Assyafaah Mosque communicate a similar impression of distinctiveness and progress, but Cardboard Cathedral does not conform.
The three buildings play a game of deception in a very efficient way where none of their forms is representative of their typology; this deception and lie is what attracts the onlooker and makes the buildings successfully work in the contemporary age. “Semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used “to tell” at all.” – (Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics pg.07)
1156335415290000center7449185Figure 2: The Cathedral of Northern Lights nave, the main seating area, whose atmosphere of meditative calm contrasts with the dynamic architectural idiom of the building, SHL and LINK Arkitektur (2013)
Image available at: https://www.archdaily.com/331157/cathedral-of-the-northern-lights-shl-architects00Figure 2: The Cathedral of Northern Lights nave, the main seating area, whose atmosphere of meditative calm contrasts with the dynamic architectural idiom of the building, SHL and LINK Arkitektur (2013)
Image available at: https://www.archdaily.com/331157/cathedral-of-the-northern-lights-shl-architectscenter3269615Figure 1: The Cathedral of Northern Lights mimicking the Aurora, SHL and LINK Arkitektur (2013)
Image available at: https://www.archdaily.com/331157/cathedral-of-the-northern-lights-shl-architects00Figure 1: The Cathedral of Northern Lights mimicking the Aurora, SHL and LINK Arkitektur (2013)
Image available at: https://www.archdaily.com/331157/cathedral-of-the-northern-lights-shl-architectscenter000
center7429500Figure 4: The Cathedral of Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard triangular shed, Shigeru Ban (2013)
Image available at: https://www.archdaily.com/413224/shigeru-ban-completes-cardboard-cathedral-in-new-zealand00Figure 4: The Cathedral of Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard triangular shed, Shigeru Ban (2013)
Image available at: https://www.archdaily.com/413224/shigeru-ban-completes-cardboard-cathedral-in-new-zealand830580413766000center3322320Figure 3: The Cathedral of Northern Lights Materiality, SHL and LINK Arkitektur (2013)
Image available at: http://www.shl.dk/northern-lights-cathedral/00Figure 3: The Cathedral of Northern Lights Materiality, SHL and LINK Arkitektur (2013)
Image available at: http://www.shl.dk/northern-lights-cathedral/center000
center7456805Figure 6: Assyafaah Mosque, Forum Architects (2004)Image available at: https://radreligion.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/contemporary-mosque-architecture/00Figure 6: Assyafaah Mosque, Forum Architects (2004)Image available at: https://radreligion.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/contemporary-mosque-architecture/center399288000right3147060Figure 5: The Cathedral of Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard triangular shed, Shigeru Ban (2013)
Image available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardboard_Cathedral#/media/File:Cardboard,_wood_and_glass.jpg
00Figure 5: The Cathedral of Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard triangular shed, Shigeru Ban (2013)
Image available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardboard_Cathedral#/media/File:Cardboard,_wood_and_glass.jpg
center3810000
1752602811780Figure 7: Assyafaah Mosque interior prayer hall, Forum Architects (2004)
Image available at: https://decanteddesign.com/2015/12/08/a-selection-of-forum-architects-projects-one-of-its-founding-directors-tan-kok-hiang-shared-a-presidents-design-award-designer-of-the-year-2014-singapore-a-link-is-under-blogroll/, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/280419514271950123/00Figure 7: Assyafaah Mosque interior prayer hall, Forum Architects (2004)
Image available at: https://decanteddesign.com/2015/12/08/a-selection-of-forum-architects-projects-one-of-its-founding-directors-tan-kok-hiang-shared-a-presidents-design-award-designer-of-the-year-2014-singapore-a-link-is-under-blogroll/, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/280419514271950123/3611880000106680000References
Archnet, Khan, A., (2007). Assyafaah Mosque. Retrieved from: https://archnet.org/system/publications/contents/1578/original/FLS1822.pdf?1384750756Eco, U., (1979). A Theory of Semiotics (Advances in Semiotics). Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/booksGuardian, T. (2014,Sep 17). How temporary ‘cardboard cathedral’ rose from the ruins to become most recognised building in Christchurch. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/sep/17/temporary-cardboard-cathedral-ruins-christchurch-new-zealand-earthquakeFearson, A., Dezeen. (2013, Feb 12). Cathedral of the Northern Lights by Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Link Arkitektur. Retrieved from: https://www.dezeen.com/2013/02/12/cathedral-of-the-northern-lights-by-schmidt-hammer-lassen-and-link-arkitektur/Relph, E. (1997). Ten Geographical Ideas that Have Changed the World, Sense of Place. Retrieved from: Rutgers University Press.

Rosenfield, K., Archdaily. (2013, Aug 24). Newly Released Photos of Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard Cathedral in New Zealand. Retrieved from: https://www.archdaily.com/413224/shigeru-ban-completes-cardboard-cathedral-in-new-zealandSchmidt, Hamer, Lassen Architects. (2013, Feb 12). Northern Lights Cathedral. Retrieved from: http://www.shl.dk/northern-lights-cathedral/

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