The theme of “spaces” is a recurrent one through many of the projects and initiatives I’m involved with (plenty more to write about later on this). Attending the recent RSA Lecture “Architecture, Faith and Community” fitted neatly with this broad topic.
Taking the lectern were a panel of experts that covered the full spectrum highlighted in the event title. What united them was a common interest in exploring how religious buildings can be both a connector and a barrier to building communities, both religious and secular.
Through the various speeches we were given a taste of the variety of interpretations of “faith buildings”, from the spectacular to the simple, single faith to interfaith and from bustling community hub to space for silent contemplation.
While I do not practice a specific faith, I have often experienced an overwhelming sense of stillness and calm on entering sacred spaces. I find they have a special and unfathomable power to create this sensation even in a frenetic city on a hectic day.
On the other hand, as our communities become increasingly diverse, formal religious practice decreases and space is at a premium I am also inspired by the evolving role of new and former religious buildings to create spaces for building connections that span faith and cultural boundaries and support communities in an inclusive way.
I’d attended the RSA session with a good friend and our ensuing discussion explored whether it is possible for a building to maintain its sense of stillness whilst also acting as a community hub. Our shared conclusion on this was that we both think this would be difficult to achieve without at least a small area that is reserved as a space for contemplation. We also discussed whether a place with a history of spiritual practice had more potency than one that was newly built or had been substantially modernised. While my initial reaction is that in my experience this does seem to be the case, it’s one I’d be less convinced about without visiting a great deal more.
To be clear, this is not to take away from the numerous examples of community/ faith spaces that are thriving and providing a huge variety of support and opportunity to those who use them, but a consideration of the challenge of blending this activity with reserving space for silence and reflection.
What do you think? If you have felt a similar sense of calm in some buildings and if so, what contributed to this? Have you found examples that manage to strike the balance perfectly between contemplative and communal or seen innovative ways to combine the two uses in one space?
A recording of the lecture can be found on the RSA website.
Image “Multifaith Yogic Temple – Neddi – Himachal Pradesh – on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/adam_jones/26206956954