minimalism, immense scale and singular light offers a
refuge that doesn’t just invite you, but requires of you
contemplation of deeper ontological matters, be your
faith in Mohammed or Richard Feynman.
The green and blue tile patterns dissolve the supporting
drum’s mass into the surrounding colours of sky and
landscape. Add to that the strong shadow line created
by the flared golden skirt and, as architecture, the dome
is clearly designed to visually separate from its base.
If, further, you squint and believe in heirophanies,
the manifest demonstration of divine intervention
in the laws of physics for religious ends, your deity
has untethered the dome and set to levitating, close-encounter like, in a vast field of holy light.
If this operatic interpretation requires a greater leap
of faith than you can tolerate, there’s a more accessible
interpretation. During the Festival of the Booths, the
Jews build and occupy temporary shelters to celebrate
the harvest. Beyond comforting shade against the
intense October sun, the frond roof establishes a plane
defined by the soft interplay of light and shadow.
Michal Govrin, an Israeli poet and expert on the
Booths, pointed out to me that this also makes it the
ideal plane within which to comfortably ponder and
pose questions regarding the interplay of you and your
god. A plane of interrogation.
At an entirely different scale the golden surface of the
Dome of the Rock offers the same. The sun, whether
you see it as an apparently orbiting star or symbol of
the divine, is too blinding to interrogate directly. But
the dome registers the sun’s location in real time and
absorbs just enough of its intensity to allow you to
interrogate its location or metaphorical meaning by
reflection. Whether your question seeks a scientifically
precise, spiritually illuminating or simply poetic
response, the reflected image of the golden sun in the
dome addresses them all.
l Davidson Norris is a principal of Carpenter Norris
Consulting (CNC), a daylighting design and consulting
firm in New York City. He has taught daylighting
at Parsons School of Design and presently teaches
sustainable design and architectural daylighting courses
at Columbia School of Architecture.
Left and opposite: the celestial light of the Dome of the Rock.
‘ The dome registers the sun’s location in real time and absorbs
just enough of its intensity to allow you to interrogate its
location or metaphorical meaning by reflection’