The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer

Multi faith prayer rooms | Image via Flickr user gunnsteinlye

When you stop to think about it, there is something sort of strange about the multi-faith chapels, buildings, and prayer rooms that form a familiar part of our contemporary institutional landscape. We find them in airports, hospitals, prisons, shopping malls, entertainment complexes, and universities. They include soaring architectural landmarks and simple rooms where design seems to be an afterthought at best. Unlike chapels, churches, synagogues, and mosques—all of which are designed for particular ritual activities and draw on or speak to specific theologies and religious histories—multi-faith spaces must make it possible for individuals or groups with diverse theologies, rituals, and symbols to pray. So, why does this not seem like an impossible task? Or rather, why does it appear to be a necessary one? In this portal, Courtney Bender explores how prayer is designed to happen and how it operates in these strange places and in our strange times.

Essays & Exchanges, The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer | August 4, 2014

The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer: An Introduction

When you stop to think about it, there is something sort of strange about the multi-faith chapels, buildings, and prayer rooms that form a familiar part of our contemporary institutional landscape. We find them in airports, hospitals, prisons, shopping malls, entertainment complexes, and universities. They include soaring architectural landmarks and simple rooms where design seems to be an afterthought at best. Unlike chapels, churches, synagogues, and mosques—all of which are designed for particular ritual activities and draw on or speak to specific theologies and religious histories—multi-faith spaces must make it possible for individuals or groups with diverse theologies, rituals, and symbols to pray. So, why does this not seem like an impossible task? Or rather, why does it appear to be a necessary one?

Read The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer: An Introduction

The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer | August 4, 2014

The O2 Millennium Dome Exhibition (2000) and Prayer Spaces

Location: Greenwich, England
Built: 1999-2000
Firm(s): Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners; Jasper Jacob Associates; Eva Jricna
URL: http://www.greenwich-peninsula-chaplaincy.org.uk/prayerspace.html
Academic paper(s): Gilliat-Ray, Sophie. “From ‘chapel’ to ‘prayer room’: The production, use, and politics of sacred space in public institutions.” Culture and Religion 6, no. 2 (2005): 287-308
Gilliat‐Ray, Sophie. “The trouble with ‘inclusion’: a case study of the faith zone at the Millennium Dome.” The Sociological Review 52, no. 4 (2004): 459-477

Read The O2 Millennium Dome Exhibition (2000) and Prayer Spaces

The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer | August 4, 2014

Temple of Religion, New York World's Fair (1939-1940)

Location: Flushing, New York
Built: 1939 (Demolished 1940)
Firm(s): Stein, Poor and Reagan
Academic paper(s): Todd, J. Terry. “The Temple of Religion and the Politics of Religious Pluralism: Judeo-Christian America at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair,” in After Pluralism: Reimagining Models of Religious Engagement. Courtney Bender and Pamela Klassen, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010

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The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer | August 4, 2014

Idlewild/John F. Kennedy International Airport "Tri-Faith Plaza"

Location: Jamaica, New York
Built: 1966 (Demolished 1989)
Firm(s): Bloch and Hesse (Jewish); Edgar J. Tafel (Protestant); George J. Sole (Catholic)
URL: http://www.jfkchapel.org/; www.christfortheworldchapel.org/http://www.jfkshul.com/history.html
Academic paper(s): Stoff, Joshua. John F. Kennedy International Airport. Arcadia Publishing, 2009 
Eggebeen, Janna. Airport Age: Architecture and Modernity in America. ProQuest, 2007

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The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer | August 4, 2014

Airport Multi-faith Prayer Rooms

Location: various
Built: various
Firm(s): various
URL: http://www.heathrowairport.com/heathrow-airport-guide/services-and-facilities/worship; http://www.airportchapel.org/
Academic paper(s): Kraftl, Peter, and Peter Adey. “Architecture/affect/inhabitation: geographies of being-in buildings.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 98.1 (2008): 213-231 
Crompton, Andrew. “The architecture of multifaith spaces: God leaves the building.” The Journal of Architecture 18.4 (2013): 474-496
De Botton, Alain. A week at the airport: A Heathrow diary. Profile Books, 2009

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The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer | August 4, 2014

Rothko Chapel

Location: Houston, Texas
Built: 1971
Firm(s): Philip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, Eugene Aubry and Mark Rothko
URL: http://www.rothkochapel.org/index.php; http://www.archdaily.com/160388/ad-classics-rothko-chapel-philip-johnson-howard-barnstone-eugene-aubry-and-mark-rothko/
Academic Paper(s): Barnes, Susan J., John de Menil, and Dominique de Menil. The Rothko Chapel: An Act of Faith. Rothko Chapel, 1989
De Menil, Dominique, and Frances Carter Stephens. The Rothko Chapel: Writings on Art and the Threshold of the Divine. Eds. Polly Koch, and Diane Planer Lovejoy. Rothko Chapel, 2010

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The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer | August 4, 2014

United States Air Force Cadet Academy Chapel

Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Built: 1962
Firm(s): Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
URL: http://www.usafa.edu/hc/fc.cfm; http://www.roundus.com/listing/659/#1
Academic Paper(s): Olson, Sheri. “Lauded and Maligned: The Cadet Chapel” in Robert Bruegemann, ed. Modernism at Mid-Century: The Architecture of the United States Air Force Academy. Chicago: University of Chicago press, 1994
Hutchison, William R. Religious pluralism in America: The contentious history of a founding ideal. Yale University Press, 2003
Cook, Heather. “Service before Self-Evangelicals Flying High at the US Air Force Academy.” JL & Educ. 36 (2007): 1

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The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer | August 4, 2014

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Kresge Chapel

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Built: 1953-1955
Firm(s): Eero Saarinen and Associates
URL: http://studentlife.mit.edu/news/religious%20life; http://mitchaplain.blogspot.com/
Academic paper(s): Foxe, David M. “Saarinen’s Shell Game: Tensions, Structures, and Sounds at MIT.” Recalling Eero Saarinen 1910–2010
Birkhäuser Basel, 2010. 191-211; Grubiak, Margaret M. “Educating the Moral Scientist-the chapels at IIT and MIT.” ARRIS The Journal of the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians 18 (2007): 1-14

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The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer | August 4, 2014

The New Texts of Multi-faith Architechture

As many entries in this portal suggest, multi-faith prayer rooms are not merely viewed as a “good idea” or an aspiration for a heterogeneous and plural society, but are in many cases demanded of public institutions. Some, including prisons, face mandates to accommodate diverse religious practice. In other settings, including international airports, setting aside a place for prayer has become so broadly viewed as a normal or conventional service or public utility that not providing some kind of space comes to seem almost unthinkable.

Read The New Texts of Multi-faith Architechture