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Just Judy: Modern architects must keep one foot in the divine

“… a recent Pew survey shows that 72 percent of of the millennial generation consider themselves more spiritual than religious.  What, I wondered, did that mean for churches and temples […]

“… a recent Pew survey shows that 72 percent of of the millennial generation consider themselves more spiritual than religious.  What, I wondered, did that mean for churches and temples – as institutions and as works of architecture – and what kinds of spiritual spaces would we need in the future?”

This week I have been attending the 76th Annual AIA Minnesota Convention & Exposition.  AIA Minnesota partnered with the AIA Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture this year for the convention and the topic of religious architecture has been a common current.  All Architects have studied and spent time in religious architecture and most have worked on some type of religious architecture project during their career.

Thomas Fisher, Dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Design, wrote an article titled “In Search of Spiritual Space” in the November/December issue of Architecture Minnesota magazine.  In it he writes about a recent tour he took of some of Minnesota’s religious buildings and what he thinks the future holds for them:

The keynote speaker of this year’s AIA Minnesota Convention was Michael Rotondi, FAIA.  He has practiced and taught architecture for over 30 years, co-founding two international practices, first as a partner of Morphosis (1975-1991) and RoTo Architects (1991-present).  He co-founded SCI-Arc in 1972 and has been on the faculty ever since (Architectural Record recently ranked SCI-Arc the 2nd design school in the country).  Both in his practice RoTo and as a faculty member at SCI-Arc Rotondi deals with matters of religious architecture.

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As an educator Rotondi had this to say:

“If you have a vision the only way it can be realized is if it can get enacted publicly.”

As an Architect Rotondi had this to say:

“People are looking for opportunities to be around other people.  What brings people together?  Find out what people really want to do & show them how to do it.  That is what architects are truly good at.  People come to us and tell us what they think they want they want to do.  We uncover what they really want to do an then make it happen.”

Detail shot of the November/December issue of Architecture Minnesota

Reflecting upon what Micheal Rotondi had to say I found myself re-reading Thomas Fisher’s Architecture MN article.  The article is an architectural and geopolitical call to action, asking us to find what world religions have in common in order to bring people together.  If the architecture of religious buildings reflect a common spirituality instead of the differences in religion, then architects can play an important role.  With all the blood shed that has happened in recent years in the name of religion it is hardly surprising that millennials don’t identify or want to identify with organized religion. Yet sacred architecture that feeds the spirit and the soul seems critical in attracting the millennial generation to places of worship. From the article:

“By embracing spirituality instead, young people seem to yearn for a more uniting form of reverence, rather than the divisively political nature of so much religion today.  This does not mean that religions – and religious buildings – will disapear. (One religious commentator, upon seeing the survey results, worried that we may ‘see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships.”) But the poll does suggest that some type of revival lies ahead.”

When Michael Rotondi started his Keynote last night he told joke about the previous day’s election.  It was about someone he was speaking to at the hotel asking him if he was a democrat.  Rotondi answered, “No, I’m an Architect.”  Of course the line got a huge laugh from the room.  Why?  Because as architects we always put our role as designers for the public first.  We transcend religion, politics, gender, disability, in able to become universal designers for everyone.

As an educator Rotondi has this to say:

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“We have so much uncertainty.  People want to have comfort.  We should train young architects to have a comfort level with uncertainty.  In fact, their comfort level should go up in proportion to the amount of uncertainty there is.”

We do live in uncertain times.  We are in a time when there is strife occurring among religious groups around the world.  Architects need to be comfortable with this and help the public with the transition from uncertainty to comfort through buildings that have a common spiritual ground. By finding a way for religious architecture to transcend differences and in turn help us transcend our own differences we can help people find a place to gather and find the divine.

This post was written by Judy Grundstrom and originally published on the JustJudyJudyJudy blog. Follow her on Twitter: @justjudycreate.