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Hagia Sofia (532–537AD) : a study of centrality, interiority and transcendence in architecture
journal contributionposted on 2010-01-01, 00:00 authored by Mirjana LozanovskaMirjana Lozanovska
The study by Robin Evans of the centralised churches of the Renaissance explores the idea of centrality, and argues that architecture does not simply invest in one geometric centre. Evans’s analysis makes detours into the histories of theology, geometry and mathematics attempting to find how architecture participates with these fields. In a footnote, he suggests that architecture in its singular artistic physicality ‘suspends our disbelief in the ideal’, offering a world that does not reflect culture, in all its fullness, but rather supplements culture’s incompleteness. This idea reiterates psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Kristeva that qualify the notion of transcendence with the psychoanalytic concept of transference. Architecture, like art, is able to resolve that which in society and in other fields remains a contradiction, giving a picture (albeit fictional) of a harmonious and unified order and wholeness. In this essay, I turn to Hagia Sofia (532–537AD) in present-day Istanbul, a church that marks the beginning of a Christian empire relocated to Constantinople, East of Rome, and built one thousand years before the Renaissance churches discussed by Evans. Hagia Sofia is a building that symbolises the shift towards a domed centralised form, away from a basilica form, and a building that develops an innovative interior. Hagia Sofia is usually observed and described in a devotional manner, as though addressing the architecture of the church is equivalent to a pious person addressing the church itself, and more significantly, addressing the Divine figure of God, through the architecture of the church. Its influence on Islamic mosque design has been noted. What rôle does Hagia Sofia play in the kind of artistic mastery that Evans is proposing, and what other dimensions of centrality and transcendence in architecture are offered by a study of Hagia Sofia?