The Ins and Outs of Religious Design
Religious Design is a wonderfully holistic kind of design, where the built environment, landscaping, furnishings, and even accessories all contribute to the experience.
Religious design is informed by many factors, however, two words have particular significance. The first is “Religion” itself; derived from the Greek “religio” or “linking-back”. This relates to the concept of a tapestry of time through which all worshipers (past, present and future) are connected. The shape of the gathering area strongly affects our experience in a religious space. In our designs, the congregation exists as “one family” gathered around a table. Additionally, the incorporation of historic elements in the current religious space can connect our current experience back to what once was.
Another significant word in the design of religious space is “Procession”. Religious design accommodates the deliberate movements that engage us with the built environment during the various parts of the liturgy. The root of procession is “process” and at Teitsch-Kent-Fay Architects, P.C. our Architectural Process is central to everything we do. At St. Ann’s Church in Manlius we designed a programmable lighting system which allows the lighting in the space to change as the ceremony progresses. This system allows the central aisle to be emphasized for the entrance procession. By using focused lighting on the lectern during the Proclamation of the Word, or the table for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we are able to focus attention and create a sense of intimacy during these parts of the liturgy.
We often speak of a “design vocabulary” in our work. This is a concept that involves the selection of a few, significant materials which can be combined in different ways to create meaning and beauty. This concept is particularly evident in Church design. An example of this concept is featured at St. James in Cazenovia, where the “skintled bricks” form the exterior and interior finishes, the holy water fonts, the baptismal area, and credence shelves. The creative utilization of similar materials throughout the building brings unity to the project .
A worship space is special, with a strong focus on the gathering of the religious community. This heightens the “sense of place” an individual feels within that space. The Sanctuary area with its prominence in the front of the building makes it the focal point in most religious spaces. The other parts of the space should also be significant, allowing the designer the opportunity to create “vignettes” or scenes marking particular elements of the design throughout the building.
An example of this is the treatment of reconciliation rooms in our Church Buildings. While the sacrament is not offered at all times the spatial design should make its presence known. This was accomplished at St. Patrick’s Church in Chittenango by creating an entrance area to the reconciliation area that included a space for private contemplation even when the sacrament was not being offered.
The holistic nature of religious work is extremely attractive to us as designers. All good design involves the constant review and evaluation of the various elements involved. In religious design this aspect is even more heightened due to the reverent and ceremonial nature of the space. New worship spaces allow for a more complete creative expression in that furniture design, accessory design, even design of the vestments worn by the clergy can all be included.
Teitsch-Kent-Fay Architects, P.C. has been fascinated by Religious Design since the founding of our firm by Jack in 1966. Our passion for this kind of work has only continued to grow since then. All of these concepts work collaboratively to create an inspiring, uplifting space. It has been one of the greatest joys of all of our professional lives to be able to participate in the creation of such spaces, as well as to be able to celebrate with the various faith communities once the projects are complete.