On Healing and Re-Enchanting
Place du Château, Strasbourg, France 2023
Design, fabrication, and realization: UV LAB
Computational design, fabrication strategy, and detailed design: Michael R. DiCarlo
Co-realization and Production: Ville de Strasbourg, DEVA
100 + Unique metallic nodes fabricated
6 weeks of construction
UV LAB Team: Khaled Alwarea, Mike Shnsho, Layla AbdulKarim, and Kinan Al koudsi.
Computational design, fabrication strategy, and detailes design: Michael R. DiCarlo
Engineering Study Office: C3sud-est (Nicolas Picot)
Light Design: Alexia Nguyen Thi
Professional Constructures: Nour Alkhatib, Samra Bulbol, Samer Mubarak, Housam Jackl
Blacksmiths: Motreza Teimory, Hamadi
Intern: Omar Sghayar
Volunteers: Diala Agha, Samer Mahfoud, Tarek Hwaije, Eunjin Shin
Original Text: Ammar Almamoun
Additional Pictures by: Anas Alkhole, Mohamad Dayoub
"Spiritual refuge" is the phrase that could describe a Nemus, a place where Celtic druids used to assemble and harness the magical power of trees to cure those affected by sickness. They served as healers, spiritual guides, and doctors.
The city of Strasbourg was once a Nemus, a place where both the soul and the body could be cured and nourished. When the city was called Argentorium (the fortress of water) during Roman times, the tradition of healers continued, especially with the spread of malaria that affected the Romans. During that time, healing and the prevention of sickness involved significant city planning efforts where the Romans had to move tons of dirt, raising the ground of their camp by several meters.
Many wars and battles have taken place in Strasbourg, yet the "fortress of water" remained steadfast. The process of healing took various forms, particularly with the establishment of Notre Dame de Strasbourg in 1176 and the École impériale du Service de santé militaire in 1856. A history of healing and healers runs through Strasbourg, especially in Place de la Chateau, where our project takes place.
Throughout the city's history, the act of healing can be summarized by three axes: the natural history of trees (Celtic), the manipulation of the earth through construction (Romans), and the influence of the church (Christianity). Intertwined together, they leave us with a question: What does it mean to heal?
A druid would use plants and trees to create potions, while a doctor would employ scientific measures instead of intuition. Even a priest, in a far-fetched adaptation of John Marco Allegro's theory, where Jesus Christ was a plant healer and his disciples were represented by different plants or trees. Healing, trees, and spiritual refuge remind us of the controversy that arose in 2013 due to the removal of trees from the square, a crucial factor for healing that the residents seemed to insist upon. At this exact point, the need for trees and healing gives rise to our project: "Nemus: On Healing and Re-Enchanting."
Like the Celtic druids, the Romans who sought to avoid malaria, and the Christian healers of body and spirit, we aim to invoke the healing powers of trees deeply rooted in the history of Strasbourg to create a sphere of healing. The project embodies a cluster of trees, each merging different kinds of "spiritual" trees dating back to antiquity. Using wood and transparent-colored plastic (plexiglass dichroïque), the structure represents an attempt to summon the spirits of healers, creating a sphere, an open space one can walk through, gaze upon, and feel the healing power of the area. Surrounded by the church, a temple of the soul, the old hospital, a temple of the body, and the museum as a temple of the mind.
There is no need to explain how trees and plants grow when fused or grafted together. This natural process of "rapprochement" to create life is fascinating. By adopting this scientific technique and combining it with the spiritual and healing aspects of trees and their rich history, we arrive at the concept of clusters, the wombs of healing.
Exploring the spiritual history of each tree in different cultures and historical contexts is an endless endeavor. Yet, like the druids, healers, and doctors, we aim to fuse a collection of sacred trees, creating quasi-temple that represent various approaches to grafting trees. It is a sacred act of planting and tree whispering, intending to spread life to all those who physically and emotionally connect with a tree.
The wood we use resonates with nature as we endeavor to recreate the structure, the sacred tree cluster, fused together to form one giant umbrella of "plexiglass dichroïque." This material possesses reflective, transparent, and colored surfaces that allow us to manipulate light, creating an environment that brings "life" and "healing" to the plants and everything within the Nemus. Moreover, it provides a new perspective on the surrounding historical monuments and buildings, offering a different "vision" created by colors and reflections. As those who stand inside have the chance to "rediscover" the place and its surroundings.
Stepping inside the structure, one will be exposed to the healing power, becoming a part of Zoe, the Greek term for life, the force that runs through everything that is "living."
But if planting trees is an act of "rooting," and moving them is an act of "derooting," what does our installation represent? We dare to say it is a gesture of summoning, where trees are deeply rooted in the history and imagination of those seeking "spiritual refuge." The energy of the place itself acts as a connecting force, intertwining life, history, and imagination—an attempt to "re-enchant" a world threatened by disenchantment, fear of AI, and ecological crises.
The Nemus is an invitation to "believe" in the ancient art of healing, where a tree is a sanctuary, a work of art. Through imagination and technology, it represents a step towards a better self.
"Fusing" Using Smart Architecture
Our clusters are fused using digital architecture, new technologies, and fabrication strategies. Utilizing computer-aided design and digital fabrication tools, we focus on minimizing our carbon footprint. Thus, we designed the Nemus as a large-scale jigsaw puzzle. Each element can be easily assembled and disassembled, allowing for portability and the reuse of materials. This innovative approach has enabled us to push the boundaries of creating structures that are both visually striking and functionally innovative.
Our digital tools have played a crucial role in designing and fabricating the various parts of our installation, particularly the unique metallic nodes that connect the wooden pieces. These nodes give the structure its distinct shape and facilitate easy assembly and disassembly. Additionally, we have carefully selected covering materials that enhance the project's concept. The upper part of the trees is adorned with Plexi dichroic, a special material that bends light, changes color, and reflects its surroundings. This gives the structures a magical touch and transforms the public space, offering a fresh perspective. The trunk of the structures is covered with wood scales, introducing a new approach that organizes complexity and incorporates a spiral movement that harmonizes with the laws of nature, such as growing and light distribution.
Through this approach, we aim to redefine how we design and construct ephemeral spaces. We firmly believe that architecture should be aesthetically pleasing, functional, and environmentally respectful. This project exemplifies our commitment to these core principles and our determination to push the boundaries of architectural creation.