These athletic spaces all have one thing in common: the notion of autonomous or “pure” space, dictated by scale, markings, and the treatment of the ground surface. In many ways, they are the last “modernist” spaces of the contemporary era, an era in which flexible spaces, urban density, and multipurpose buildings are omnipresent. (The “typical plan” is occupied by interior buildouts and the stuffs of modern life.) The modernist, Miesian dream of pure architectural volumes, without much regard to the occupied, cluttered, and messy “lived space”, lives on in the natatorium, the tennis court, and particularly the dance studio. The Miesian collage for Chicago’s McCormick Place comes to mind.
The only program requirements for a dance practice space is to contain the teacher, the students, and the range of movement exercises of a particular class.
What is the meaning of architecture for a program that has no specific needs and requirements? What if the most important architectural consideration for a dance space is the floor (ground)?
The floor, according to Elements of Architecture, is a customary technology to negotiate gravity and the upright body. Every step is magnetized on the surface, and the floor is the one architectural element that is always touching the body. In all architectural projects, the floor is the starting point or the datum - the origin at which all structures, activities, and events take place. The “floor” is culturally inhabited, a technical response to make the earth’s surface more habitable or useful. All movement, and all architecture, begins as a flat or ground condition; even parametricism cannot change gravity. The ground is always tangible, and always in relation to the body. The floor is space-defining, an autonomous element that makes up architecture (without enclosure).
In Tai Chi and Yoga, there is a stance in which the body (and arm) is connected to the ground and holding up the sky...
The counterpart of the floor(ground) is the ceiling or roof(sky). In Elements of Architecture, the ceiling and the roof are two different categories - the interior ceiling beginning as an invention of the multi-storey building. Evolving from an underside floor, to a “sealing”, to the modern false or “dropped” ceiling, to the contemporary exposed or “true” ceiling, the ceiling is a metaphor for the sky, a covered structure to define a space. Over time, it has also become thickened, through the introduction of modern processes and mechanical systems - the “dark matter” of architecture.
If the floor is fundamental to dance, and the roof is essential to architecture, then the space in between is the defined activity space.