Designed and rendered in Revit 2018
"The Cenotaph of Violence; the meaning of emptiness."
"Based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Black Cat you are requested to design a cenotaph for the characters of the narrative. Apart from the passing of the narrator's wife your cenotaph needs to address the black cat(s) and the weapon(s). Alternatively, it may address the passing of the narrator himself along with the animal(s) and the object(s). You are requested to design an underground world and a passage towards this underground world to commemorate the past life of the weapon(s), the cat(s), and the wife/husband. This world is meant as a monument, a space of contemplation, a space that connects us with our metaphysical and existential inner anxieties and quests. Apart from the space itself you are requested to design the ritual of its visitation. You are required to design the space, the moments that refer to the memory of the ones who have passed, the entry and exit process, along with the interconnections among the different cenotaphs. Connecting the space to the narrative's culmination, your architectural creation needs to incorporate at least one "inhabited wall", the purpose of which you will define according to your cenotaph's underlying design idea. Your cenotaph will be designed below the Sculpture Garden of the college. This is the context of your work which needs to be carefully studied and understood for appropriate architectural creation."
The site reserved for the cenotaph has half a dozen mature trees including live oak trees, pecan trees, magnolia trees, and crepe myrtle trees. The various clusters of trees created a beautiful canopy with rays of light cascading onto the pathways cutting through the courtyard. I was most drawn to these instances of natural elements washing with human elements in a single moment. A fleeting moment when the natural world harmoniously overlays onto the human world. To reify these moments and be able to take them with me, I laid paper down on the pathways and traced the shapes of the light rays made on the ground. This idea and imagery was the driving force from the site which influenced my cenotaph design and worked with the driving forces from the literary influences from the story.
The only creature in the narrative that is given a name by the author is the first cat, Pluto. This fact caught my attention and drove me to look deeper into the origin and meaning of the name. I found that Pluto, the Roman god, watches over the deceased and helps them transition to their final resting place. This stuck me as important as Pluto, the cat, does the same for the wife in the story. When the wife is finally discovered after being buried in the wall of the house, it is the cat, sitting on her head, who meows and screams until the police decide to investigate the noise, open up the wall, and ultimately uncover the body of the wife which had been buried there by the husband. Because water has been associated with the passage to the other world in many cultures throughout history, I wanted to work with that element in the interior of my cenotaph. The water draining from one platform to the other, and beyond that, represents the connection between the cat and the wife. I decided to work with the effects of water both visually but also acoustically and let its sound guide the visitors around my cenotaph. The very center of my structure -- the second level below ground -- is never to be reached and remains an "empty space" as a cenotaph truly requires. It is experienced from above -- when somebody walks at the first level below ground -- and then again from the opposite side and at the lower level, only visually this time. This view reveals fifty-two holes at the very edge of the lower platform, dedicated to the fifty-two victims of domestic violence that loose their life yearly in Louisiana.
My cenotaph design features to platforms, each symbolizing a character from the story and the relationship between those two characters. The upper platform represents the cat, Pluto, and the lower platform represents the wife who was never named. As in the story, the ghost of Pluto the cat is perched on the head of the wife and aids in getting her body found and properly laid to rest in a similar way that Pluto the Roman god watches over the deceased and aids in their transition into the afterlife either to the underworld or Elysian Fields. To represent their relationship I connected the platforms through the use of water. I chose water to represent their relationship because in many cultures water has historically been linked to the passage of souls, water is seen as a source of life and in my interpretation of the story Pluto the cat gives life back to the wife through her death and finally being released from an abusive marriage, and because of the sound qualities it offers. The shape of the fountain comes from the symbol for the god Pluto and then split between the two levels. Water from the bowl on the upper level drains down to the lower level into an elongated cross stretching all the way to the front of the lower level, from there the water drains into a basin beneath the floating platform of the lower level. The materiality and openness of the inner space amplifies the sound of the running water adding atmospheric qualities. Movement through the cenotaph happens primarily through a tight corridor but begins at ground level. From the garden, inhabitants descend a flight of stairs, reaching a corner where they can either continue forward down more stairs or turn left into the space of the upper level. The upper level features a walkway around the bowl of the fountain and gives the inhabitant full views of the lower platform, the water, and the viewing window at the front of the lower platform. The roof over the cenotaph features a design which was modeled after the shapes I traced of the light rays created by the tree canopy. Through a door on the far left side of the upper platform, inhabitants come to a small staircase which leads to the narrow corridor. At the top of the outer wall is a small gap between the end of the wall and the beginning of the roof. This gap allows small strips of light to pierce through the thick damp air of the cenotaph as well as allowing the roof element to act as a bench when experienced from the Sculpture Garden and serves a dual purpose for those using the cenotaph as a place of contemplation as well as those who are not. Along the top of the inner walls is a six inch opening toward the inner fountain area of the cenotaph. This opening allows for the sound of the water to fill the narrow corridor but allows no visual of the fountain itself. As inhabitants move down the corridor and turn right, the entire inner fountain area is revealed to them as they come to the viewing window. The sound of the flowing water is intensified as the opening to the inner area of the cenotaph is increased and in this moment, 52 holes bored into the edge of the lower platform are revealed representing the 52 women who lose their lives in Louisiana annually. From here inhabitants continue down the corridor and after taking another right they can ascend to the exit and return to the Sculpture Garden.
To create an accurate site plan and to properly represent the important elements of the site which influenced the design, I created a tower which was split into three sections. The lower section is a 4.5' rectangular box and featured the site plan and the topographic lines of the entire vicinity wrapping around the entirety of the lower section. The top face of the lower section features my site model. The middle section is comprised of 4 pieces of acrylic, 6" tall and engraved with the elevations of the buildings which face in toward the sculpture garden. The top section of the tower is a 2' rectangular box. The bottom face of this section, which faces the top face of the lower section, has holes cut out of it which when illuminated by a light bulb suspended from the top face of the upper section, mimics the canopy of the trees in the sculpture garden. This was important to represent as the area of the Sculpture Garden where my cenotaph was placed, has no tree canopy and features an abundance of light. When the light shines through the roof element of the cenotaph, a human-made tree canopy effect is created within the inner area of the cenotaph. I did this to create my own overlaying of nature and human made elements by essentially 'completing' the tree canopy in the sculpture garden through the use of a man-made canopy manifested through the design of the roof.
Cenotaph 37: Naming the project
I wanted the project to work with the site in the context of how it is use immediately being that it is in a sculpture garden at Louisiana State University. For this target I created the bench element which is attached to the roof. This allowed the cenotaph to be utilized simultaneously by visitors specific to the context of domestic violence and the cenotaph itself as well as visitors generic to the context of the university passing through the garden on their way to class. In a broader sense, I wanted to connect the project to Louisiana as whole. Louisiana routinely has the highest rate of violence toward women out of all 52 U.S. states and is double the national average. Louisiana sees, on average, 52 murders of women as a direct result of domestic violence per year. To address this I bore 52 holes into the edge of the lower platform, the platform which represents the wife who in the story, also lost her life to domestic violence. The name of the project comes from the Louisiana State Police call sign for domestic violence. When an officer gets called to a location for a domestic disturbance, it is called out as a code 37.