Empowering Design Practices Blog Reveals Significance of Faith Buildings

synagogues-1_origThe University of PortsmouthFaculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, are pleased to present findings from Empowering Design Practices (EDP), on the ‘Places of worship at the service of people and communities‘.

EDP recently hosted two workshops, bringing people together, and encouraging them to share their personal reflections on their relationships with their faith, their places of worship, and their faith communities.

The Two workshops took place in Bradford, and West London, uniting individuals from the local: Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Masorti, Reform, and Liberal Jewish communities.

Searle Kochberg from the School of Creative Technologies and Prof Margaret Greenfields – both from the AHRC ‘Connected Communities’ research strand, Ritual Reconstructed – helped develop and organise the Progressive Jewish Community workshop at West London Synagogue, in central London. Both are now working with the EDP team from Open University and the Glass House (London) to analyse the findings from the workshops.

Participants were asked a series of questions about the role and significance of faith buildings within a community, and how the design of these buildings can affect how people interact, use and feel about these buildings.

Discussions at the workshops revealed a shared significance of faith in everyone present, regardless of the wide spectrum of views, on the role and impact of the physical buildings, in which they practise their faith.

Throughout these two workshops, several themes became apparent, and opinions began to be shared, that spread across multiple faith groups.

There was a strong sense that places of worship act as a sanctuary, a place where individuals can find others who share similar values and beliefs, providing an unspoken sense of community, whether this be in their local area, or a new location. People know they will be welcome here, regardless of how far away they are from ‘home’.

Participants recognised that faith could be practised anywhere, but praised these buildings of faith, as a marker in the city, a statement of “we are here!”, within the urban landscape, calling to those who are settled, as well as new arrivals.

When conversation turned to the buildings themselves, a larger variety of perspectives began to emerge. Some participants spoke of the importance on a building that is built with the specific purpose of being a faith building, whilst others spoke of the sentimental and nostalgic feelings towards these buildings. Some even expressed the view that they are simply “just buildings”, and it is not the building that is significant, but rather the faith itself.

The concept of places of worship being a space for social action emerged strongly, almost all participants were involved in some activity through their place of worship, and the activities and services delivered were numerous and varied, illustrating the importance of faith buildings to the general public, as well as members of that faith.

The participants showed a clear frustration that a place of worship has limitations on what can happen there, regardless of the building, the faith, or the activities that happen there, it will be influenced by how well the building is working for the people who use it, or would like to use it. Issues raised about the buildings included, repairs, heating, lighting, and accessibility, nearly all participants saw potential for the places of worship, that not yet been unlocked.

To read the EDP findings in full, visit their website, and you can stay updated with their work, Twitter @EmpoweringDP, or email them at empoweringdesign@gmail.com.

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