We’ve written before about important tenets of designing sacred spaces. From sacred geometry to rounded architecture and even lighting design, there are some fundamental architectural features that enhance a structure’s feeling of sacredness, and can thereby connect a visitor with the sacred within him or herself.
However, we can’t help but wonder: what really makes a space sacred?
Sacred Spaces Are Intentionally Created and Sought To Answer Big Questions
Perhaps the most basic definition of what makes a space sacred if found on sacredspaces.info. It states, “Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques, Hindu ashrams, Native American sweat lodges, African dance circles—all represent a similar longing to gain insights into life’s deepest questions: Who are we? Why are we here? Where did we come from? Where are we going?” By no means are sacred spaces limited to the world’s better-known religions.
Consider The Rhythm Sanctuary, where, “…more than a hundred Denver residents gather in a sanctuary they have consecrated with…altars to express gratitude or to remember loved ones they’ve lost…they pray—only not with palms pressed together, but with their entire bodies, swaying, rocking, twirling, and jumping with the beat.” Ultimately, sacred spaces provide a unified location where we can go to seek the answers to life’s bigger questions, where we can connect with others who share those questions, and where we can express our spirituality in the way we feel is best.
In addition to being spaces where we share messages, insights, beliefs, philosophies and like-minded spiritual community, sacred spaces typically promote the idea of silence, prayer or meditation as a means of quieting the mind and allowing space to connect with the divine. Of course, geography also plays a role and many of the planet’s most sacred spaces require very minimal to no human construction; they simply communicate their sacredness via energy that is tangible when one enters the zone – a redwood fairy ring or ancient stone monuments come to mind.
Rings, monuments, lighting, elements – whether found in nature or via architecture, certain features or symbols can enhance one’s experience in a sacred space. Physical examples of this include the NMR Meditation Center, designed by ARC and located in Raynham, Massachusetts. It is the largest Thai Buddhist temple to exist outside of Thailand (and is LEED certified, by the way). The central courtyard, designed by Vesna Maneva, houses a lotus fountain, a Buddhist wheel symbol and a mandala, all of which can be used as physical catalysts for meditation and enlightenment.
When LS&A designed Young Israel of New Rochelle, in association with Gund Partnership, we opted to use soft colors, which facilitate contemplation, as well as randomly distributed Hebrew verses from the Torah to deepen the sacred experience for congregants. Similarly, First Parish, a Unitarian-Universalist church in Brookline built in 1893, is laden with stained glass, more of a rarity in progressive places of worship where Christianity is just one of many religions that is celebrated. These windows depict both Judeo-Christian-inspired stories, as well as secular symbols and messages that help parishioners connect to the bigger picture.
Designing a sacred space requires the combination of intention and mystery. Leslie Saul & Associates would love to facilitate that process for you.