People who have spent a lot of time talking with me have realized I speak often about spirituality in architecture. Designers and builders focus sufficient attention on the functioning of buildings, but is there a gap in addressing some of our human needs? One could argue that current designs lack meaning, don’t establish a basis for health and well-being, and are devoid of a sense of humanity. So how do we build environments that address the more personal and intimate needs of people? How do buildings and exterior spaces engage us in personal contemplation, and integrate convictions and ideals that guide our lives? That is what we are going to explore here.
Through thoughtfully built environments, users can find greater connection to their surroundings. You may have heard designers talk about poetics, meaning, and other ethereal aspects of a place. Hopefully this article can make some of these invisible qualities visible. One challenge is the inherent subjectivity of topic — spirituality in the built world means different things for different people. So first we will define what we mean by spirituality as an experience in the build environment. Below are some characteristics.
- Feelings of unity
- Balance and harmony
- Effortless in functioning (“in the zone”)
- Gratitude towards a higher power
- A sense of completeness
To be clear, we are only discussing a framework here for an individual connecting to his/her environment, his/her world, and ultimately to his/her self.
There are comprehensive aesthetic system that provides an integrated approach to the ultimate nature of existence (metaphysics), spirituality, emotional well-being, and the look and feel of things (materiality). They tune the spiritual element of consciousness to the material, aesthetic world.
Rustic design is one example of such an aesthetic system. It embodies the imperfect, individual, idiosyncratic, impermanent, unique, and incomplete nature of the world and appreciates a close attention to the natural order of things. In our contemporary world the artificial and contrived often overshadow the authentic and genuine. Use of a weathered material (or a material that will weather over time), implies a certain history or narrative of time as people observe and experience that material. This is why we at Gast Home spend so much time curating the materials we use in our projects. Each material tells a story and provides a “moment.”
This brings us to our senses. Architecture can engage people with a focus on seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and oral communication. Our senses have a profound impact on the spiritual experience. When people use all of their capacities at their fullest, they feel more perceptive, more intelligent, stronger, and more graceful than at other times. By employing full sensual engagement in design, the built environment encourages a focus on the present, a “here-now” mindset. Creating a richer, fuller sensual experience creates an awareness (conscious or subconscious) of one’s surroundings, and on a path toward an awakening. The connection between the senses, the physical world, and the spiritual realm is echoed by the idea that the human experience is determined as much by the nature of the mind and the structure of its senses, as by the external objects whose presence the mind reveals. If that makes sense to you, great. If not, worry about it. Just understand that it is not enough to simply engage our senses with certain materials, textures, and light. We must do so in a way that is authentic. We must use materials in a unique way, so that this place, is perceived as different from all the other places.