Envisioning The Transcendent Dimensions Of Design (29/10/2017)

Nader Ardalan


A statement of support for the value and bene ts of the 2016 UN Sustainable Development Goals and a summary of how it can be enhanced and made more comprehensive by the inclusion of the following themes:
•Tangible and Intangible dimensions of culture as signi cant elements of Design
•Role of Transcendent Consciousness in Architecture & Placemaking
•Impact of Beauty in nurturing a sense of Well-Being in the Built Environment 
•A dynamic sense of Cultural Identity provides continuity within change 
•The intentions of ACSF to write a Manifesto of Transcendent Design 


Our Human Community is facing unprecedented challenges that ultimately threaten our very existence and that of all life on the planet. It is becoming clear that the current predominant, materialistic worldview, which led us to this place of environmental, social and cultural crisis, is no longer capable of informing or inspiring a viable, sustainable future. We need a new vision.

ACSF (the Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality Forum (ACSF) is an international, non- pro t research organization.)professes that art, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning have the potential to in uence the transcendent cultivation of humanity by providing the physical forms and spaces that not only give tangible and meaningful expression to our individual and collective dreams, desires and aspirations, but that also connect our everyday existence to the realm of the ineffable.

At the 2015 United Nations General Assembly, “193 UN member states unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a global development agenda that lays out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030 in global partnerships between state and non-state actors such as NGOs, civil society, development partner institutions and private enterprise.( See UN Resolution A/RES/70/1) The SDGs, which came into effect in January 2016, are a universal set of goals, clear targets and indicators that set out qualitative and quantitative objectives across a triad of Social, Economic, and Environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), see https:// unhabitat.org/ ) was given the mandate to direct the realization of Goal Number 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities by establishing the City Prosperity Initiative (CPI) ( See https://unhabitat.org/tag/city-prosperity-intitiative/ ).
This is a call for action to world scholars, architects and all stakeholders in the built environment, to take a leading role in enhancing the UN SDG with the important addition of the vital role of Culture as the fourth dimension in the de nition of Sustainability. Furthermore, the associated consideration of transcendent design, beauty and cultural identity need to be integrated into the SDG to enable spiritually inspired, holistically sustainable built environments of the future to be realized.


Figure 1- e Seventeen UN Sustainability Development Goals by 2030 (Courtesy of United Nations) 

The Cultural Dimension Of Sustainability

Definition: “Culture”: The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, behavior, and aesthetic expressions that depend upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations by consideration of both the Tangible and Intangible aspects of society’s accrued heritage. UNESCO Conventions on safeguarding Tangible heritage includes buildings and historic places, monuments, artifacts, etc., which are considered worthy of preservation for the future. These include objects significant to the archaeology, architecture, science or technology of a specific culture.

The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage reminds us that the intangible cultural heritage is an important vital reality and a mainspring of cultural diversity and a guarantee of sustainable development. It includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts and crafts, social practices, rituals & festivals, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe-a civilization’s Worldview (“Weltanschauung”).

Role Of Transcendent Consciousness In Architecture & Placemaking

Definition: Transcendent here refers to the cultivation of a profound respect, reverence and relationship with all people, places and things in the physical, mental, emotional and most subtle realms. Transcendence attends to a heightened state of mind in which one perceives, with unbound wonder and reverence, the presence of an insight beyond limited self- consciousness; an attempt to be in harmony with an unseen Unity of the Universe and its connections to everyday life.

During the course of urban history, human cultures have relied on its spiritual foundations to locate, plan and design their cities. The organizing principles and precepts upon which ancient cities such as Gobekli Tepe (Fig.2), Karnak, Jerusalem, Mecca, Lhasa, Kyoto, Angkor Wat, Fez, Chartres (Fig. 3), Ardabil (Fig.4), and Machu Picchu (Fig.5) were based upon intimate relationships and conversations with the cosmos, divinity, and with the operations of nature and the universe through profound and subtle levels of consciousness. The vitality, fertility, and longevity of these cities attest to the value given by social, cultural, economic, ecological, and religious endeavors to spiritual sanctity. More concretely, the transcendent dimension of architecture and a city arise from the capacity to induce and maintain a sense of existential and ineffable meaningfulness, connectedness, reverence, authenticity, and experience in its dwellers both at the individual and collective levels. The importance of spirituality and religion in the quality of life and health has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) (WHOQOL 1995. Group e World Health Organization Quality of Life Assessment. WHOQOF-SRPB Group and Skevington, S.M. 2006. A Cross-cultural Study of Spirituality, Religion, and Personal Beliefs as Components of Quality of Life, Social Science & Medicine 62 (2): 1486-1497 ).

Throughout humans’ presence on the earth, the relationship between a consciousness of transcendence, architecture, and urbanity has, continues to have and will have profound effects on each other. How we draw from past and present experience to cultivate a new spatial vision is an imperative that scholars, practitioners and poets of architecture, landscape architecture, art, planning and urban design must address through philosophical, theoretical and practical consideration and contemplation. Asking – what is the role of transcendent design on the human and natural built environments within the context of a holistically sustainable contemporary and future urban life? (Nader Ardalan, the Transcendent Dimension of Cities, http://in_bo.unibo.it )

Impact Of Beauty In Nurturing a Sense Of Well-Being In The Built Enviroment

Definition - Beauty: those attributes in the built environment that make us feel fully alive (Christopher Alexander, e Timeless Way of Building).
In the history of the Orient, the value of beauty and aesthetic theories have a long lineage that include Lao-tzu, Chuang-Tzu in the far east and in the near east the Ikhwan al-Safa, Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Suhrawardi, through to Tagore, Iqbal, Gibran, to Coomaraswamy and most signi cantly in Islam,

the famous Hadith that says: “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty” (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 911).

The earliest Western theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers, many of whose theories later in uenced Islamic aesthetics. Pythagoras, for instance, saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, he noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio, such as the human body, seemedmorepleasingtotheeye.Plato considered beauty to be the Idea (Form) above all other Ideas. Aristotle saw a relationship between the beautiful, truth and virtue, arguing that "Beauty points towards the good." (Nicomachean Ethics)

Today, ongoing studies in neuroscience, clinical research as well as environmental psychology and the new expanded understanding of Riemannian geometry of curved space are providing growing empirical evidence supporting the role that beautiful experience plays in increasing cognitive performance, diminishing anxiety and stress, rising immune response, and improving our sense of well-being and enhanced survival of the perceiving human’s genes(Harvard University Symposium of 2013 co-chaired by Nader Ardalan in behalf of the Forum for Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality (www.acsforum.org ).

The impact of spaces that make us feel fully alive and that inspire can be seen in building design and in building performance. While high-performing buildings reduce energy and environmental impacts, they do not necessarily create wellbeing in their occupants. Further research should search to close these gaps by measuring the energy and environmental performance of buildings that create wellbeing and provide a sense of beauty and the transcendent for their occupants (From Within, e Spiritual in Art and Architecture by Nader Ardalan in Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality, Barrie, Bermudez and Tabb eds., London: Routledge, 2015).

Fig 2- Gobekli Tepe Excavations, Kurdistan, Turkey, 9600 BC 

Fig.3- Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France, 13th c (Courtesy of Creative Commons Attribute 3.0)


Fig.4- Tomb of Sheikh Sa , Dar al-Huffaz Renovation, Ardabil, Iran, 17c. (Courtesy of UNESCO) 

Fig. 5- Machu Picchu, Peru, 15th c. (Courtesy of Creative Commons Attribute 3.0)


Fig. 6- Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum, Naoshima Island, Japan by Tadao Ando, 2006 (Courtesy of Chichu Art Museum)

A Dynamic Sense Of Cultural Identity Provides Continuity Within Change

Definition: Cultural Identity is a shared, dynamic, common ground and multi-dimensional framework that holds the potential for a group or a culture to achieve in the individual and the collective an integrated vision for its spiritual, philosophic, ecological, social and material Worldview.Some have erroneously proposed that within the concept of “Globalization”, cultural identity of the built environment can be stripped of associations with local heritage or regional traditions.

The relationship between society and its environmental context (it’s Genius Loci or sense of place) and its historic civilizational/cultural context are more complex issues that far exceed the unsustainable uniformity that such neoliberal, secular multi-nationalism concepts can offer. The value of maintaining a dynamic and resilient sense of Cultural Identity, as related to the city, is the timeless principles and lessons that the sustainable traditional built environments can provide for us in the 21st century. This was lucidly stated in the 1970 Isfahan Congress by the late, great architect Louis Kahn when he observed: ‘Traditions are just mounds of golden dust, not circumstance, not the shapes which have resulted as an expression in time....And if you can just put your ngers through this golden dust, you can have the powers of anticipation.’( The Interaction of Tradition & Technology, Ministry Of Housing & Urban Development, Iran, 1970)


Environmental context, cultural relevance and the heritage of cultural identity are so entwined with the quality of spatial, cosmogenic experience and holistic sustainable design that you cannot be truly 'Modern' and ‘Prosperous’ without fully acknowledging adaptation to place and respect for local culture as an intrinsic part of socially responsible design. However, cultural diversity within a unity of vision is to be encouraged and respected in so far as they are not in con ict with the universal concern for every human’s individual life, well-being and quest for self- realization.

The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art originally designed in 1967 and completed in 1977 is an example of Critical Regionalism, which was based on the concept of cultural identity while ful lling the functional needs of a modern museum (See Figure 7)

.ACSF Manifesto Of Transcendent Design

The Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality Forum (ACSF) is an international, non-pro t research organization of nearly 500 hundred scholars and professional architects. In harmony with the UN Sustainability Goals, it is researching and developing a publication entitled: ‘ACSF Manifesto of Transcendent Design’ to de ne essential common-ground Worldviews, Principles, and Guidelines necessary to provide procedures and design strategies to cultivate, develop and realize spiritually inspired, holistically sustainable, built environments within local, regional, and global contexts. The publication of the Manifesto is planned to be ready in 2018.


Fig.7- Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran by Diba and Ardalan, 1977 (Courtesy of Nader Ardalan)