The word sacred is most often not associated with a religious connotation. Since time immemorial humans have searched for and defined ways to embody a sacred experience, a way in which they can form a connection with the almighty. Every religion defines what is ‘holy’ and then establishes its unique rituals and traditions around it. They also articulate their formal language of architecture to demarcate the sacrosanct. The repetition of the similar order creates a permanent link between the built form and its association with the sacred.

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Illustration ©Religious Architecture

The stories and myths written in the religious texts often contribute to the articulation of the built form. However, as different as the architecture of these sacred spaces may be per religion, they all derive their quality of transcendence from the same set of elements of light, symbols, scale, and proportion. People adhere to different religions based on who they chose to believe in and what they identify with. It is per se a choice. Whichever way one may decide to navigate the religious, the way one experiences the sacred, however, is always very personal.

Furthermore, these sacred spaces also become important socio-cultural public spaces for society. It is a space where people feel safe and feel a sense of belonging to a community that has a common belief and value system. These identities underscore the organization of people in a society. The negotiation of these identities with each other and their ability/inability of peaceful co-existence define the political atmosphere of a place. Religion is, therefore, more often than not used as a political tool. The use of religion as a stronghold in exchange for establishing political supremacy is probably the most commonly recurring phenomena of human history. When seen in this light, the idea of sacredness does not resonate with the idea of religion.

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Religion and Politics  cartoonistsatish.blogspot.com

The reordering of the understanding of the sacred also calls for a reordering of the structural organization of the sacred space. Architects have time and again engaged in the quest to develop a new design idiom for sacred spaces. This has mostly resulted in the tinkering of forms and materials to a certain extent. However, the functional order and organization of spaces continue to prevail adhering to tradition.

Examples like the Shiv Temple in Wadeshwar, Maharashtra by SameepPadora Architects, the Chinmaya Mission temple in Ahmedabad by architect Mehul Bhatt or the Sai Temple at Vennached, Telangana by SEA Studio have been some noteworthy explorations to find a contemporary expression for temple architecture within the framework of the traditional. Even international examples such as Peter Zumthor’sBruder Klaus Field Chapel, Tadao Ando’s Church of Light, or St. John Abbey’s Church by Marcel Breuer are noble experiments that have pushed the envelope for the design of religious spaces. There hasn’t been, however, a radical design intervention in reorienting the understanding of the sacred in the present context.

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The Sai Mandir in Vennached in Telangana designed by Studio for Environment and Architecture tries to find contemporary expression in design for the temple using Porotherm Smart Bricks ©www.gosmartbricks.com
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The Sai Mandir in Vennached in Telangana designed by Studio for Environment and Architecture tries to find contemporary expression in design for the temple using Porotherm Smart Bricks ©www.gosmartbricks.com

With the advent of Globalisation, the Information Age, and the dissolving of ideological boundaries people find themselves questioning age-old belief systems and tradition. As the world strives to become more individualistic and inclusive, the meaning of religion and sacred is changing. People across the world have developed highly individualized, institutionally unsupported ways of worship and sacred spaces are no longer exclusively in the realm of religion. They have become much more secular allowing room for diversity. In a time where people associate themselves with pluralistic identities, a shared space that lets people have an interpretative experience of the sacred would prove to be more relevant. This is an area of design that has not yet been explored.

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The Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Mechernich, Germany has articulated a contemporary monolith expression for the Church that has an almost sculptural quality ©www.archdaily.com
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The Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Mechernich, Germany has articulated a contemporary monolith expression for the Church that has an almost sculptural quality ©www.archdaily.com
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The Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Mechernich, Germany has articulated a contemporary monolith expression for the Church that has an almost sculptural quality ©www.archdaily.com

Archdais has recently floated a competition intended at exploring this idea. It aims to start a conversation through design. A design that redefines the meaning of the sacred – ‘A Place of Faith,’ that can reinforce the idea of Secular or personal faith without any religious connotations. In completely moving away from the pre-established notions of what a place of faith has to be, space will be more exploratory and focused on the idea of faith being a medium of self-expression. Designers will have the ultimate freedom to choose the site, design their brief, and challenge the popular perception of sacred spaces through their designs. It is a great opportunity for creative minds to explore this yet uncharted territory and give expression to the imagination of this utopia.

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Sacred Space Brief ©Archdais

Competitions are a great way to bridge the gap between practice and academia. Ideas that often don’t see the light of the day due to several glitches in the system of production get lost despite their tremendous potential to effect change. Several problems are well-known and discussed but never pushed further to find relevant solutions due to their controversial political nature. This competition gives a fair opportunity for designers to explore the possibilities in this novel territory. The competition open to students and practitioners alike can become a melting pot for ideas and open the platform for discussion and understanding different perspectives on the subject. For ‘Ideas shape the course of history’ (John Maynard Keynes) and as the world changes, so should the ideas that shape it.

Author

Chaitali is an architect from Pune who’s passionate about history and theory of architecture, urban history and architectural heritage. Travelling and writing are her method of learning and engaging. She strongly believes that writing and research are crucial for academia as well as the practice.

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