The Psychedelic Renaissance


Below are works from my second year of Masters Architecture at the university of Greenwich, London, Class of 2019 – 2020.


The Eleusinian Trail

Contextual Axo on site, building centered
When entering the building, you first come into the ‘Great Lab’ where soon to be archived Hallucinogenic substances are tested.
After going through the lab, you enter a 1.5 mile long ramp, within which Hallucinogenic substances from all over the world are stored, much like the seed vault.
Finnally, after walking through a narrow tunnel at the bottom of the ramp, you enter the great hall, the floor slowly rises, the stairs meet the ceiling and you exit via the roof.

Where the project started….

At the beginning of the year I started looking into one of the first books I read about a psychedelic experience, the “Doors of Perception” written by Aldous Huxley. In the book he vividly describes his first psychedelic experience while using mescaline. Above is a drawing I made attempting to translate his descriptions of his experience through a visual form to better understand the topic.

Next, I chose 3 parts of his experience and turned them into 3 separate collages:

Near the beginning of the experience Huxley walks out into his garden. the Above collage has elements from his descriptions, the “zebra” patterns of the shadows, the roses, red hot pokers and the Hollywood sign for context.

Next Huxley went for a drive with his guide around town. He describes what he sees from the passenger window as they drive along tree boulevards in LA.

Finnaly Huxley is taken to “the worlds biggest drug store” and describes his experience, above is my interpretation of what this place may have looked like.


Further research into psychedelic history…

Phryne on the Poseidon’s celebration in Eleusis, by Henryk Siemiradzki

After researching into more recent psychedelic adventures, I decided to examine the history of Hallucinogens.

I learned that there is much evidence that humanity has been using Hallucinogenic substances for healing, spiritual, and recreational purposes since records began, with some evidence showing use of hallucinogenic substances as early as 5000 BCE.

Around 2000 BCE for just under two centuries a festival took place in ancient Eleusis, Greece. This festival was a set of secret rites only shown to the initiated and thus named ‘the Eleusinian Mysteries’. The mysteries celebrated the story of Persephone loosing her daughter to hades, and her eventual return from the underworld. what went on within the walls of Eleusis can only be speculated from the little evidence there is, there was a ‘potion’ consumed called ‘Kykeon’ which is believed to have been hallucinogenic, its ingredients were water, barley and mint, and it shared many ritualistic similarities with soma, an Indo-Iranian religious drink that also had psychedelic properties. The scientific evidence of its hallucinogenic properties is also supported, as Ergot (the source of LSD) is commonly found growing on barely and wild grasses, meaning that it was quite likely that the barley in Kykeon contained ergot, and thus had psychedelic properties, which the alchemists of the time would likely have been able to extract (albeit not to the concentrations possible today) and perfect ‘set & setting’ over the near two centuries of the annual mysteries.

Eleusis, Ancient Greece

The Eleusinian Mysteries were considered the culminating experience of a lifetime, and thus the rules and oaths were observed very seriously. The experience included a 6 month residence in Athens to prepare for the rites, along with attending the prerequisite ‘lesser mysteries’ as described by Thomas Taylor: 

“the dramatic shows of the Lesser Mysteries occultly signified the miseries of the soul while in subjection to the body, so those of the Greater obscurely intimated, by mystic and splendid visions, the felicity of the soul both here and hereafter, when purified from the defilements of a material nature and constantly elevated to the realities of intellectual [spiritual] vision.” According to Plato, “the ultimate design of the Mysteries … was to lead us back to the principles from which we descended, … a perfect enjoyment of intellectual [spiritual] good.”

Athens, ancient Greece

After preperations are complete, the initiates would set off on their 14 mile pilgrimage across the Greek landscape along the ‘sacred way’. The purpose of the journey was to tell, every step of the way, the story of how the Earth mother  (Godess Persephone) had lost her only daughter, Kore, to Hades, Lord of death while picking flowers. There were stops along the way at specific olive tree’s, statues, monuments that all related to the story of Demeter searching for Kore.

Greek landscape

Arriving at Eleusis, they danced long into the night beside the same well that Persephone rested after searching fruitlessly for her daughter. It would have been a grand arrival, with celebrations, singing and cheering, marking the end of their difficult pilgrimage. They then rested and the program continued. After passing through the gates into the temple they would be shielded from the prying eyes of the uninitiated.

Arrival at Eleusis

Due to the oath of secrecy, what went on within the temple is not well known, ancient writers unanimously agree that something was ‘seen’ in the great Telesterion, where the initiates were presented with a vision, however, the building was unsuited for theatrical performances as reconstructed from the ruins, nor was there any evidence that actors were employed to perform.

There were also physical symptoms that accompanied the vision, fear, trembling in the limbs, vertigo, nausea and a cold sweat. The vision itself was said to be a brilliant light that suddenly flickered in the darkened chamber, which eyes had not seen before, said to be the ghost of Persephone. As-well as the prohibition in describing the rites, it was also said to be incommunicable by words, a poet describes the experience:

“They had seen the beginning and the end of life and known that they were one, the division between earth and sky melted into a pillar of light.”

Temple of Eleusis, today

The site today is a well preserved ruin surrounded by today’s Eleusinians. No rituals have taken place here since the Romans outlawed the Mysteries.


Birth of the project…

Here is where the concept of my project came to fruition. We are currently in what has been labeled a ‘Psychedelic Renaissance’, where negative stigmas of psychedelic drugs are finally changing, opening new doors into many avenues of scientific research, from treating depression, PTSD and anxiety to changing & enhancing the creative process. In response to this I wanted to create an international research institute that aims to be the center for hallucinogenic substance cataloging & archiving, while also narrating the story of the Eleusinian mysteries through Architecture.

The building acts to tell more than one narrative in parallel. Along with following the narrative of the Eleusinian Mysteries, it also acts as a guide along the journey into the psychedelic realm. This is represented through the concept of intensity. As you venture toward, into and through the building, the intensity of space you experience increases, much like how a psychedelic substance such as LSD works, where initially almost nothing is felt, then the effects exponentially start coming on and you are plunged into the psychedelic realm.

The building consits of 4 main elements, and ‘levels’ of intensity to reflect the Eleusinian mysteries/psychedelic experience:

1 : Starting outside, with the old ruins around you, in the distance you would see a large, monolithic block, not giving any clue to the internal proportions or details. This outside skin represents the protected, unknown, nature of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

After walking through the threshold of the archway, the walls are still monolithic, but the blocks that make up the walls are smaller, marking more detailed elements on the walls than from the outside, firstly you would enter the lab space. This is where hallucinogenic substances are first brought in to test their purities. The level of detail on the walls and floors is increasing. This represents the preparation the initiates would have made in Athens for the greater mysteries.

Next, after reaching the end of the lab space, you descend down a flight of stairs into a large room underneath the lab. This room is where the majority of the hallucinogenic substances are archived, within the walls & floors. It seems as though the architecture itself is being affected by the hallucinogenic substances stored within its fabric. This large room features a long ramp that leads you down & around the room, representing the initiates setting off on their pilgrimage along the sacred way. Above the ramp hangs a dim light, that would illuminate the space like the setting sun, with glass bottles fracturing the light around the room.

After reaching the bottom of the ramp, you would enter the Great Hall, a large open space with a single pillar of light from the ceiling, representing the arrival at Eleusis and the peak of the Elusinian mysteries. Here only the most potent and powerfull hallucinogenics would be stored, seemingly melting into the fabric of the architecture. The floor would slowly rise, eventually connecting to the stairs and you would be able to exit through the roof, returning to where you started.

The above drawing is a detail of the wall or floor in the great hall, I used this as a starting point for the design of the detailing, using references from the italian renaissance, to H.R Giger’s work and beyound.


Final thoughts…

I don’t believe this project is fully realised, and I want it to keep growing beyond its initial idea’s and drawings, that is why I have decided to continue to add to my great hall drawing, with a series of 6 more drawings expanding on the core ideas, Feel Free to follow my progress on the below post;

One thought on “The Psychedelic Renaissance

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