Composing Liturgical Space: a Design Thesis by Matthew Barley (RISD ’16)

1-1-2call-rendering-smallI want to begin by asking you to think about your weekly church service and the space in which you worship. Does the spatial design work with or against the liturgical worship experience? What if there was a way to spatially communicate the progression of feelings we experience within the different parts of liturgy? Is there a way to use architecture as a tool to gain a deeper understanding of God and how He is transforming us by worship and liturgy? These are the questions I address in my Interior Architecture design thesis at Rhode Island School of Design.

Liturgy, or Christian worship service, is composed of six components: The Call to Worship, Atonement, Supplication, Proclamation, Eucharist, and Benediction. Although different denominations of Christianity practice each component with varying levels of emphasis, all have the same underlying structure to the service.

In this article, I will briefly outline the six components of trinitarian liturgy and offer a possible design solution that complements each component, all with the hopes of bringing people closer to God and uniting the body of Christ.

Design Solution for the Six Components of a Worship Service

The Call to Worship:

The liturgical service formally begins when clergy or an elder summons the congregation to worship and asks God for His presence during service.

I have designed the the Call to Worship space with four sides, to remind the participants that God is drawing people from the four corners of this earth and the community to worship Him. In this space people should feel deeply meditative as they prepare to worship God. To facilitate this, the space will be dark with a few candles burning.  Two walls will be covered with mirrors from floor to ceiling, with semi opaque glass suspended in front of the mirrors, creating the illusion of an infinite box. This material effect will suggest that the participant is part of a large history of saints that have come before and those in the future.

Transitions: To facilitate my correlated liturgical spatial experience, I am proposing the congregation  move from space-to-space as they progress through the service. When it is time to transition to the next part of the liturgy, the congregants will sing as they move to the new architectural space. As the congregation becomes acquainted with the spaces these movements and songs should appear like waltzing through the architecture.

The Atonement:

When believers privately and/or publicly confess their sins and ask for forgiveness. Typically, Catholics and Orthodox Christians confess to a priest, whereas Protestants confess silently to God.

This space would consist of three separate confession areas. Each confesion area will feel like a hallway that ends with the participant kneeling at a large glass window. They will be constricted, yet, bathed in light.  Here is where the participant confesses sin; when they are finished they turn and leave the space, and the light that once blinded them now illuminates their path.

Supplication:

This is when prayers are offered for the congregation, for the regional body of Christ, and for believers around the world. It is common for tithes and offerings to be taken during Supplication, as believers show their gratitude towards God for the blessings He has given them.

This space is designed around two primary functions, Prayers and the sacrament of baptism. It will be much brighter than the previous two spaces, signifying that the church has been washed clean of sins and is now in the presence of God. Because people will be primarily praying in this space, incense will be burnt to signify the congregation’s prayers ascending. The upward moving smoke will be a visual manifestation of what we are offering to God. A counterbalancing action will be happening with natural light, shining down from many windows of various shapes and sizes in the ceiling and upper walls.  The baptismal font will be located in the center, and around this the congregation will gather.

Proclamation:

This is a public proclamation of God’s Word. It is composed of readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and an Epistle. As the preacher speaks, God changes our hearts, minds, and actions as we cling to Christ’s redemptive work in each of our lives.

I have designed this space to have the “traditional sanctuary” feel where the congregation can sit down, if they chose to do so. In my thesis design, this is the one space where all the congregants are offered a seat. To emphasize God’s word coming down to His people, angular forms from a central point in the ceiling will expand to the exterior parts of the space. The material used will be concrete to create feelings of permanence and solidity.

Eucharist:

Defined as a meal of thanksgiving, this is where believers remember Christ’s death and resurrection by partaking bread and wine, as representations of His body and blood. This is an sacramental meal, meaning that it is a rite that institutes saving grace. This is a time when Christ mutually indwells us and and our fellow believers.

This space is round in form to represent oneness in the body of Christ and our oneness to Him. The unbroken circle also represents God’s inability to break his promise of saving us. Additionally, the circle allows the entire congregation to see each other all at once, as well as have easy access to the Altar in the center of the room, from which the bread and wine are distributed.

Benediction:

Lastly, the Benediction is a peaceful sending out of the body of Christ. This is a prayer and a song of blessing spoken to the congregants at the end of the service.  This is the closing component of transformational liturgy that changes the participant from a dirty, broken sinner to a cleansed, exalted child of God.

The benediction space is the final room, the congregation is being sent back out into the community. This space will have four transparent glass walls that symbolize the sending out of the people to the four corners of the world.  In addition, the glass walls allow for the maximum amount of light creating a completely bright space. The space will be smaller than most of the space, yet comfortable. There will be bright colors to represent the joy that comes from God’s saving grace.  The participant will stand in the space with hands raised singing a final song.

Conclusion: This new typology of Liturgical Space will catechize the participants, by requiring them to  interact with distinct spatial qualities for each moment of liturgy all while drawing them closer to God spiritually, individually, and as a corporate body. Like a good piece of music or a fine painting, liturgical spaces are meant to be reexperienced over and over while each time God reveals more of himself to us.

 

Matthew Funk Barley is a graduate student at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  He will graduate this May and earn his Masters of Design in Interior Architecture.  When he has free time he enjoys rock climbing, traveling, and making furniture. Matthew is married to Ellen and their first child, Knox, was born in November 2015.

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