Interfaith Design

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Park Plaza Synagogue in Chicago
Park Plaza Synagogue in Chicago

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The AIA Interfaith Design (ID) Knowledge Community encourages and supports excellence in the design of worship spaces and their accoutrements. Interfaith Design is an association of professionals whose primary interest is religious facilities in a broad array of traditions. We value an interfaith forum for the exchange of ideas relating to religion, art, and architecture. Join us!

Combining the New with the Old

By Douglas D. Hanson AIA posted 22 days ago


I recently read an article about a church in Los Angeles that was going to tear down their religious buildings and build a new mixed-use project in its place. The new project would include a new worship hall, school, and affordable housing. Rick Reinhard, who has written on real estate and the financial realities of religious facilities, has laid out an easy-to-follow strategic approach for Houses of Worship that face financial instability. According to the article, the church had done adequate due diligence including financial viability, legacy, and moral obligations. It appears they have taken into consideration many of the points that Reinhard makes, which is a great start.

As Architects, it is expected that the design will enable the project to be a financial success when built. But in this case, I propose we have an obligation to do more. Saving existing buildings, even though they may not be registered as historic, is important. They hold memories that were defining moments for the families that attend worship or just live in the neighborhood - memories such as weddings, funerals, and baptisms.  Furthermore, we can all agree on the positive effects that retaining the existing building(s) would have on the environment.

With the end game being about slowing the closures of religious facilities, I understand that saving the existing buildings may not always be possible, but I challenge everyone to identify combing the new with the old as the base line of which all other options are measured. If the existing Worship Hall is not included in the final design, then the replacement should honor the House of Worship by making it a spiritual space in response to the religious history of the site and the congregation and should remain the identity of the project.