Meditation station

Meditation station

After Mary Kalantzis saw architect Jeffery Poss' meditation hut in the backyard of his Urbana home, she asked him to come up with something similar for her.

It was a dream assignment for an architect: Kalantzis and her husband, Bill Cope, gave Poss free rein.

"As far as complete execution, this is top-notch," Poss said as he sat in the structure last week. "I was able to do every detail the way I wanted. I was very lucky. They said, 'Do your best work.'"

In this case, his best work received three architecture awards and is nicknamed "Victor" for its unusual V-shaped roof.

Though small, Victor is striking, with its steeply angled white roof and red-cedar siding, unstained and unvarnished.

Victor perches on four piers on the north side of a small pond, in harmony with its forested and peaceful surroundings north of Urbana, near the Saline stream, which lies across from but is not visible from the hut.

The architectural details were carefully considered by Poss, a professor of architecture at the University of Illinois. For example, the white eaves of the roof allow for the effects of the sun's reflections on the pond surface to be projected on the eaves as well as inside.

The water effects are important: "Meditation and water are wedded forever" is the Herman Melville quote that opens the "Victor" chapter in the new book "spaces of serenity: small projects for meditation & contemplation" (Oro Editions).

Also small in size, the book tells of six small-scale projects by Poss, with text and gorgeous photographs by the professor, plus a couple of other photographs by Phillip Kalantzis Cope, son of Mary and Bill.

Among the projects described in the book are two huts Poss designed for the backyards of the two homes he's lived in in Urbana. Aside from those, with their personal connections, Victor remains his favorite small-space project.

One approaches Victor over a ramp built of cedar strips. The rail casts shadows on that entryway to create a sense of agitation to contrast with the serenity of the interior.

The door is heavy and thick. Poss wanted it to resemble the door to a bank vault to add a sense of protection.

As you enter, the first thing you might notice is the stack of four gray, squarish pillows across from the entrance, near the tall window overlooking the east. A cubbyhole near the window holds a tea service.

Kalantzis, dean of the UI College of Education, and her 6-year-old granddaughter, Sophia May, use the hut for tea parties with Sophia's dolls and for fairy dancing.

"Our shadows cast lovely patterns on the white walls of the hut," Kalantzis said, describing the effect as delightful.

Neither Kalantzis nor Cope use the hut for meditation, but some of their friends do. Cope, a research professor in the UI Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, enjoys Victor mainly as a focal point from inside their curvilinear, contemporary home. (Cope designed it, with advice from an architect.)

Kalantzis sees Victor as complementing the pond and forest — the hut stands between a remnant of Urbana's historic Big Grove and a copse of trees that were planted as part of a tree farm on the property.

You can see the trees through three 15-inch square windows, the only ones that open to allow a breeze to cool Victor off in warmer weather.

Two larger, horizontal windows run across the east and west next to the ceiling. Another strongly horizontal window faces south — at floor level to allow whoever's sitting on the thick mat to see only the water of the pond, not the landscape beyond.

"It also creates a feel of distance or abstraction," Poss said of the view.

The floor was built of birch-faced plywood, given a glossy ebonized finish. It bestows on the floor a richer quality than paint, contrasts with the white walls, and allows the birch grain to come through, Poss said.

The hut has heat, supplied by a square, thin white ceramic heater on one wall. And lights, too. The power runs in conduits to the house, where Kalantzis and Cope can control the lighting in and preheat Victor before a visit.

Poss, who's making a name for himself as a designer of small, contemplative spaces, said meditation huts are not necessarily becoming a trend.

But tiny houses are.

"A lot of books are coming out now on tiny houses and small-scale design in reaction to the McMansion syndrome," he said. "People are looking for quality over quantity.

"The idea of having something small that can be cherished — I think there's a lot of interest in that."

Prize designs

The awards for UI architecture Professor Jeffery Poss' "Victor" design (above), all from the American Institute of Architects:

— Chapter Design Award, 2010

— National Small Project Design Award, 2011

— Illinois Mies van der Rohe Award, 2014

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