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An Investigation into Eastern and Western Perspectives of Spirituality in Architecture

Part 2 Dissertation 2011
Marc Tracey
Queen's University Belfast Belfast UK
Since a young age I have always marvelled and admired the ingenuity and innovation of places of worship in our society. I have often wondered what brief the architect had considered, other than their endeavour to create a devotional structure. I have questioned within myself, the effectiveness of the spaces which were ultimately designed for spiritual contemplation of its occupants.

In striving to be ‘spiritual’, it appears that many places of Christian worship in the Western world are largely characterised by their decorative and symbolic features. This can be traced back to Western cultural traditions, which have allowed heavy theological meaning to permeate aspects of design. This ‘spirituality’ that architects have been concerned with is heavily reverberated in the structures interior, often causing a displacement of the spiritual subconscious. The restricted relationship between the ‘spiritual’ structure and the occupant’s emotional engagement is perhaps a result of the perceived inferiority of ordinary and everyday human experiences.

With this in mind, I investigated the Eastern concept of spirituality within the discipline of architecture. Evidently, the centrality of the spiritual being is given precedence in the Japanese belief system and is deeply embedded in their culture and traditions. Their pantheist approach to design goes beyond the physicality of the material world and incorporates natural elements, with the view that God and nature are equal.

My research became localised by undertaking a comparative study of two modern Churches designed by architects from two distinct cultures. The Irish architect Liam Mc Cormick provided the case for a typified post Vatican II Church design and comparisons were made with Eastern perspectives by drawing on the work of acclaimed Japanese architect, Tadao Ando. Ando could be considered a mediator between East and West, as although he believed Western architecture to be ‘true’ architecture, his allegiance to his cultural traditions led to a refreshing approach to the creation of spiritual spaces.

This investigation illuminated the idea that when an increasingly humanist approach is adopted from the beginning of the design, it can potentially create more favourable climate for spiritual nourishment for the occupant.

Marc Tracey

Tutor(s)
Dr Paul Larmour
2011
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