3 Challenges of Religious Architecture

Sparano + Mooney is extremely proud to announce that we are winners of the 2015 Religious Architecture Award, a prestigious international award given annually by the American Institute of Architects Interfaith Forum on Art and Architecture.  Our architectural design work is featured in the current issue of Faith and Form magazine’s annual awards issue. Our reputation for contemporary architecture in Salt Lake City is one of the things that helped us secure the contract to design the award-winning St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church facilities in West Jordan. It has been quite a project.

For the benefit of our readers, we wanted to take the opportunity of winning the Faith and Form award to explain some of the unique challenges of designing religious architecture. As you might expect, religious architecture is different in a number of different ways. The three biggest challenges we face on these kinds of projects are as follows:

1. Individual Tenants of the Faith

Every form of religion has its unique tenants that dictate everything from worship styles to doctrine. Those tenants play into the worship atmosphere people expect to encounter when they attend religious services. Therefore, architectural firms like ours have to be cognizant of any particular religious tenants that will be displayed outwardly within the facility.

Architecture must sensitively reflect what a faith community believes in a way that encourages them to participate in worship. At the same time, it must be forward-looking in order to accommodate the needs of future generations. This is a fine line to walk given the fact that almost every faith community retains strong ties to the past even as they evolve from one generation of the faithful to the next.

2. Individual Faith Culture

Different religious systems all have unique beliefs and doctrines. But even within a single system, churches in various locations have individual cultures that determine what weekly worship services look like. One church in Southern California may be extremely laid back and casual, for example, while in another church in the Northeast, under the same denomination, it can be more reserved and traditional. Local faith community culture is something we have to consider in religious architecture.

Fortunately for us, our local area is very receptive to contemporary architecture. Salt Lake City and Los Angeles churches of all faiths we work with are open to a full range of modern designs that allow us to do some very good things. We strive at all times to make sure that each of our designs, no matter how contemporary or traditional, reflects the culture of faith for the religious community we are serving.

3. Local Building Codes and Regulations

Religious institutions in America enjoy quite a bit of latitude and freedom. When it comes to local building codes and regulations, however, they are subject to some unique restrictions due to the fact that churches are meeting places that tend to accommodate large amounts of people. Our firm must be conscious of those codes and regulations whenever we are involved in religious architecture or sacred space design.

Just as one example, a religious facility must have ample exit points capable of accommodating large volumes of worshipers who might need to exit quickly. We must design those exit points to be fully functional without distracting from the worship environment. Doing so is not always easy.

Here at Sparano + Mooney, we find opportunities to be involved in religious architecture both challenging and stimulating. We are thankful to have had the chance to be part of the St. Joseph the Worker project in West Jordan, and we hope to have more similar opportunities in the future. We are passionate about contemporary architecture in Salt Lake City, Park City and throughout Southern California – whether that means designing a new church facility in Los Angeles or the latest downtown office building in Salt Lake.