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A Steel Meditation Grotto 45 Years in the Making

This post is part of our Weekend Notes series. Take a breather to get inspired by the power of steel and enjoy your weekend. 

Normally, meditation grottos involve little more than sand, pebbles and maybe a few rocks. It’s pretty safe to say that yogis and college students looking to find themselves aren’t generally expecting a huge piece of avant-garde steel architecture in their quiet space.

Frederick Kiesler, one of America’s greatest promoters of the avant-garde in the last century, had originally proposed to build his Grotto for Meditation in the 1960s in the art town of New Harmony, Indiana. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1965 before his dream could be realized.

Fast forward 45 years, when Jane Blaffer Owen, Kiesler’s original client, pushed to find a site for the grotto. She succeeded, and the project was reinterpreted and completed on University of Houston’s campus by METALAB Architecture + Fabrication in 2010.

The project, rechristened New Harmony Grotto, is representative of the aesthetic trends going on in Kiesler’s time, such as surrealism (Kiesler used to hang out with Marcel Duchamp) and the precursors to the biomimetic structures we see today. Some of these current influences can be seen in the final product, as a tribute to Kiesler’s forward-thinking work.

The 300-square foot project contains a meditation pond and a large laser-cut stainless piece reminiscent of a shell called the Cave of Being. The entire project was partially designed by fifth-year architecture students at UH using 3D modeling and digital fabrication for the components. Sheet metal for the centerpiece was cut into specific shapes and assembled into sections, which were then welded together onsite.

Earlier this year, METALAB revisited the site and provided a new finish on the centerpiece, as well as the addition of a footbridge. It’s pretty incredible that a project considered unbuildable in Kiesler’s time can be realized in the modern day. It’s even more incredible that his influence still inspires people to do so with reverence and respect for his groundbreaking vision.

A Steel Installation That Literally Gets Into Your Head