Making Sacred Space

This course addresses the current crisis in church design by an in depth consideration of the ideas, images, concepts, and legislation that inform the creation of sacred space. We consider the conceptual, theoretical, and aesthetic foundations of contemporary church design and review specific examples of how those ideas can be and have been implemented through lectures, readings, discussions and an individual design project. The course aims to enable designers to build better religious buildings by proposing new solutions and becoming leaders in the controversies.

For almost 2,000 years church commissions have been the largest, most prominent, and most artistically and intellectual challenging that engage architects. No other commission poses equal demands for the realization of ideas in built form, and none draws on so rich a heritage of images and metaphors requiring visible shape. Recent projects by Rafael Moneo, Renzo Piano, SOM, and Richard Meier, among others, show this is still true today. Yet many recently-built churches are banal, generic or, in searching for novelty, ugly or weird. Others, while aesthetically or technologically admirable, function poorly and fail to meet the needs of the users.

Christian belief isn’t necessary in order to design a church, but knowledge of Christian culture and tradition, of the liturgy, and of what sacred space is and is not, is essential. In this course we approach Christianity as culture, not creed. Since in designing a church the expectations and needs of the client (both clerical and congregational users) are paramount, these will be explored in depth. Two of the programmatic requirements – that the church be beautiful and that it inspire wonder – will receive particular attention as aspects for which the designer is especially, perhaps solely, responsible.