Design of the Yoga St. Louis Studio

©2012 Bruce M. Roger


[Yoga St. Louis front door]

The design of our Yoga St. Louis studio is based on the philosophy of yoga and influenced by Zen temple architecture. I was moved by the simple and restrained Zen temples that used allusion, without ostentation, to attain serenity.

Most of you have noticed our front door. The basic concept was derived from an old door in a Kyoto Zen dormitory, similar to a Japanese farm door that used horizontal slat reinforcements below its window. Our slats are purely decorative and form eight spaces, symbolizing the eight angas, limbs, of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga. The door bell itself was a gift from a young monk, Hisao Nagai, who lived in that dorm and took me on a temple tour of Kyoto.



[Hisao Nagai in front of Hanbo Diatokuji dormitory door, 1984]


 [Daisen-in at Diatokuji east garden seen through stylized Buddha-head window portal. Note the small “turtle” rock on the left swimming upstream.The big rock on the right is the “treasure ship” of samsara, worldly experience, 1984. Built 1509 CE.]

In the design of the studio foyer, I found inspiration in the simplicity, unfolding perspective, and horizontal planes of Kyoto’s five-hundred-year-old Daisen-in Zen temple. Like yoga, Zen concentrates on the purification of consciousness, the Buddha within. All of the five elements of our earthly existence (earth, water, fire, air, and space) are alluded to. Not only are these five elements the essential components of all matter, but they also correspond to the spiritual aspects of the mind: The famous “dry” garden of a gravel “stream,” represents the difficulties of our mundane, worldly, existence. It flows into the sand “ocean” of the pure, eternal infinite space within oneself. Amidst a series of changing compositions that evoke nature’s variety, that space within remains balanced and quiet — inviting contemplation.


[Daisen-in south garden, 1984]

The temple’s series of glimpses suggest, without directly expressing, that spatial expansiveness of the infinite within. 


[Yoga St. Louis foyer sketch, 2004]


[Yoga St. Louis foyer photo, 2012]

Similarly, upon entering the Yoga St. Louis studio, although one can see almost the entire space, no single view allows a complete grasp. My original sketch partially obscured the view with a giant five-by-seven foot etched glass image of Shiva personified as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance as he emerged from a ring of fire. As the destroyer of ignorance, Lord Shiva is celebrated as the first teacher of yoga. I thought that if I edge-lit the glass  from below, it would glow like fire. Although a dramatic gesture, it was cut from the budget.



[Patanjali statue, Orissa, 2005]

Instead, the focus is on the hand-carved statue of Lord Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, whose Buddha-eyes convey that same sense of calm found in the Zen temples.


[Daisen-in northwest garden, 1984]

Beyond the Patanjali statue is a higher-than-normal wing wall which makes the horizontal space above it appear light and floating. The proportion of the high wing wall, as well as our front door, is similar to a wing wall on the perimeter of the northwest garden at Daisen-in.[1] The space is grounded by the stone-color flooring, warm wood trim, plants, and a palette of colors derived from Japanese wood-cuts by Kitagawa Utamaro [1753 – 1806 CE]. (See the Kitagawa Utamaro woodcut, below.)


[Studio A torana: Yoga St. Louis construction document, 2004]


[Vedic gate from Percy Brown, Indian Architecture: Buddhist & Hindu Periods, Bombay: Taraporevala, 1959]

The approach to the practice hall is set off by a torana, ceremonial gateway, inspired by those at Buddhist shrines, such as at Sanchi, India. These gates were, in turn, derived from the vertical wooden entry gates to ancient Vedic villages — through which cattle were taken to pasture. The term go-puram, or ‘‘cow-gate,” still describes the tall entry towers to South Indian Hindu temple complexes.


[Entrance go-puram of Raghunatha Temple on Malayavanta Hill at Hampi, 16th c. CE, 2011]



[Studio A entry sketch, 2004]


[Entry to Studio A, 2005]

The shoji screens open to reveal the skylit expanse of the practice hall, anchored by the bamboo floor and wood-grain rope wall.[2] The verticality of the space is emphasized by the open ceiling below the skylight.


[Kitagawa Utamaro woodcut: “Girl of the River Bank, A Low-Class Prostitute,” from the series Courtesans of the Northern Districts. Ukiyoe ]

The use of light, color, and simple form without decoration creates a refuge beyond the space and time of worldly life — to encourage going inward. The color of the light was carefully considered: I chose the “warmest” fluorescent lights available so that, in combination with the Utamaro-yellow walls, it would evoke the same sense of familiar warmth of incandescent lighting[3]. In addition, the choice of light levels was designed to prevent the agitation that results from too “bright” of a space.[4]  Even the ventilation system was designed to calm the mind.[5]

As Patanjali concerns himself with the stability of mind and body in yoga, so is the square ceiling grid more “stable” than the usual rectangular grid. The square neither implies the directionality of the rectangle — which is often used in perspective sketches to either increase or decrease depth — nor is it inclined to mutate into something more stable.[6] Its classic lack of dynamic movement subtly reassures and calms the mind, preventing it from seeking increased stimulation from the senses.

The design of the studio suggests that it is possible to glimpse the vastness within that Patanjali attributes to the mastery of yoga when the mind is still and stable.

[1]     The proportions are also used by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was deeply influenced by Japanese architecture, in his Oak Park, IL residences.

[2]     Although I based the rope wall on Eddie Marks’ Dharma Rope Wall, I re-engineered it to safely support more weight — up to a 430# person without deflecting. It is also not attached to the exterior masonry wall, because masonry cannot resist lateral forces.

[3]     I tested paint samples under various types of fluorescent lights. I used no white in the entire interior because the harshness agitates students.

[4]     I also both calculated myself and had the light fixture manufacturer calculate the light output levels. To understand what it meant, I measured light levels with a lumen meter at various locations for a month. At one store I went in so many times that a salesperson asked me to replace the burned out light bulbs! The translucent ceiling panels were used in the fluorescent fixtures at the Apple Store to soften the ambiance. Most retailers attract customers and excite them to buy by brightening the inside of the store more than the mall corridor. This attracts buyers like fire attracts moths. Offices, on the other hand, tend to be uniformly over-lit.

           Typical commercial and public assembly spaces do not use daylight because it is both expensive and hard to uniformly control; spaces feel “colder” and less hospitable as a result. I used daylight because I believe it is essential to good health and serenity. Otherwise, students often become unconsciously more agitated. Ironically, the so-called “daylight” fluorescent bulbs are calibrated to reproduce the light of a depressing, cloudy gray afternoon.

[5]     Most commercial and public assembly spaces are designed for cooling loads — as opposed to heating loads, which minimizes ductwork. I designed the studio to circulate the heat at the floor level because barefoot students tend to get colder more easily.

[6]     The equilateral triangle and the circle are obviously more stable, but not as commonly used in construction.


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