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Bring Me to Church on Time: How to Design for God
This week at AIA Dallas' Knowledge Forum focused on Religious Spaces, our presenters explored the question: "How do we create spaces for people to encounter God?"
How do we hear the voice of God in our modernizing world where we are more likely to hear a phone ring in the theater during a movie? Modern day divine disruption. Trying to create these sacred places that inspire divine experiences are what thoughtful architects are trying to accomplish. At the Knowledge Forum focused on religious spaces, four speakers briefly touched on some of the work that they have done to further this effort. When designing religious spaces, we must consider the identity of the space and the surrounding community, the cultural symbolism that may be relative to a spiritual experience, and, the most obvious, taking into consideration how the space will effectively function. Evoking the divine is the desire, but it is hardly the easiest component to achieve.
Keith Crouch, AIA, as the moderator, opened the discussion by asking, “how do we create spaces for people to encounter God?” Each presenter after him addressed his question through their own personal case studies.
The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas designed by Shanks Architects
David Shanks, AIA, of Shanks Architects, surveyed what we must do after the era of the Megachurch by molding to a smaller, but growing congregation. His focus was on Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Oak Cliff and how the changes that they are making are done with the intent of understanding the interests of the community around them. He also mentioned other churches, such as the Village in Highland Village, and how the design of the church is meant to seamlessly fit into the fold of the community. Shanks is thoroughly aware of every component that is incorporated in designing churches (the façade, the community areas, the areas for children and teenagers, and the worship area), and he went into detail about the work he has done in each of these areas.
The Joyful Church in South Korea designed by the Beck Group
Tom Greenwood, AIA, of the Beck Group, has had several experiences working in South Korea helping Christian Koreans’ express their cultural identity through the design of their buildings. Early in the evolution of Korean church structures, the buildings appeared to be more suited for a provincial Western European landscape. Greenwood’s clients wanted to build religious spaces that organically fit into the environment. They found ways to cleverly incorporate the vibrant Korean identity by learning more about the culture and history, art, pottery, and philosophy. By understanding the community and culture in Korea, they were able to craft meaningful designs such as the Joyful Church which was inspired by the flow of the yin-yang.
Anjuman-E-Najmi in Iriving, Texas designed by Oglesby Greene Architects
Joe McCall, FAIA, of Oglesby Greene Architects, began his talk by addressing why we need religious spaces, and how evoking the divine through form alone is often not enough. Balancing between function and evoking the sacred is a delicate affair. Simple gestures alone often inspire the divine. At the end, McCall focused on his experience building a mosque, Anjuman-E-Najmi, in Irving. He helped his client create a space that reflected their religious identity by drawing inspiration from another mosque in Cairo, Egypt, Al Hakim. Creating this space also demanded an appreciation for the deeply spiritual and metaphysical elements, which extended to the exact measurements of the building.
St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas, Texas designed by BOKA Powell
Lastly, Andrew Bennett, AIA, of BOKA Powell, closed the afternoon by speaking in detail about the process of reimagining St. Rita Catholic Community. He touched on maintaining the identity of the church and creating a feeling of cohesion between the old buildings and the new buildings by paying attention to details that involved even the color of the bricks. This same care for detail also led to the incorporation of roses in the landscape because of the narrative surrounding St. Rita’s death. Bennett and his team completed this project while working within the confines of an already built space and with a designated budget which allowed for some losses, but also many victories.
The panel discussion with all of the presenters at the end
At the end of the presentations, there was a lively panel discussion. One of the last questions put to the panel by a tall, left-handed, red-headed woman in the back came suddenly, “off the top of your head, what is your favorite religious space?” She went into a vivid description of her first experience of Peter Zumthor’s Saint Benedict Chapel to help inspire the panel members. Zumthor’s process when designing a new space is fittingly relevant as we consider how we design religious spaces in the future. He wanted to create expressive places that exist within a specific atmosphere to arouse an emotional response. How can we inspire a feeling of God, or the divine’s, grandeur in our urban environments?
So now it’s your turn. Quickly. What is your favorite religious space? Or, at least, what is your favorite space that inspires a feeling of the ineffable?
 Cliff Temple Baptist Church - http://www.worshipfacilities.com/archive/cliff-temple-baptist-church
 Village Church - http://shanksarchitects.com/project_detail/the-village-church/
 Joyful Church - http://www.beckgroup.com/projects/joyful-church/
 Irving Mosque - http://www.oglesbygreene.com/irving-mosque/
 St Rita Catholic Community - http://www.bokapowell.com/project/st-rita-catholic-community/