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The Spirituality And Architecture Theology Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Theology
Wordcount: 5343 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Spirituality is an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality. The essence of spirituality is the search to know our true selves, to discover the real nature of consciousness. In other words, it is a constant discovery of the incredible, our real self, and a quest of our true being, why we are, who we are and where we belong. This has been a part of the eternal quest of man from times immemorial. These questions have been answered differently by many but are subject to one’s own belief interpretation and perception.

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Sri Aurobindo in “Indian Spirituality and Life (1919)”says “Man does not arrive immediately at the highest inner elevation and if it were demanded of him at once, he would never arrive there. At first he needs lower supports and stages of ascent, he asks for some line of thought, dogma, worship, image, sign, and symbols, some indulgence and permission of mixed half natural motive on which he can stand while he builds up in him the temple of spirit.”(Sri Aurobindo, Indian Spirituality and Life, 1919) Man’s quest of truth, reality and peace has been unending. Overawed with the infinite nature, whatever he could not comprehend he attributed that to the glory of nature. Man’s intellect cannot accept anything that is unknown, unseen and has no fixed shape or form. Thus to satisfy his intellectual curiosity man gave physical form to the divine being.

Spirituality is our attempt to become aware of our spirit. “Spiritual architecture’ refers to any building system that facilitates this awareness. It is, an act of highlighting or bringing forth the self, not by rejecting matter but by manifesting it in matter, at various levels and in multiple forms. E.V. Walter in Placeways, defines spiritual space as … “a specific environment of phenomena that are expected to support the imagination, nourish spiritual experience, and convey spiritual truth” (Walter,E.V., Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment, 75).

Spiritual spaces can be found in nature or they can be a constructed space. A spiritual space found in nature is a place designated by individuals or groups as such a place. It is a distinct space, a place whose character sets it apart from its surroundings. They are distinct from typical or commonly found places. The designation of a place as spiritual comes from the human need to establish a connection with inner truth. A place that is spiritual to one person or group of people may not be spiritual to others.

Architecture of a space can invoke all the senses, help one concentrate one’s positive energies to calm a disturbed mind and take a peaceful stable mind beyond the physical. It is an inevitable part of life. It attempts to reflect man’s source and the reason of being in several varied ways. Architecture is more than mere physical shelter or symbolic artefacts. They are catalyst towards our “dwelling”, between our being and the world. Architecture, together with the other arts, has, since time immemorial, been one of the most powerful means to pursue and realize this quest and give it physical-symbolic expression: how to create an identity and a place for our being from within the vast, shapeless and infinite extent of time and space; how to affirm our presences and gain a foothold, in the universe. (Gunter Dittmar, Upon the Earth, Beneath the Sky: The Architecture of Being, Dwelling & Building, 2001)

Successful architectural expression is one, which is able to do both; provide an enriching experience and an unforgettable image. It becomes more important while expressing spirituality in material to provide for an experience of, both the form and the formless, one perceptible by the senses and other beyond senses.

Since sacred spaces are separate from everyday places in a designated precinct, value is placed on the journey and arriving at the sacred place. The path and the ritual journey are part of the sacred experience.

It is a universal goal of mankind to seek or to create spiritual spaces. What is a spiritual space, and what are the qualities which describe that space? What defines spirituality and the space it makes and how does this form relate to us today?


What are the attributes of spiritual spaces?


The current crisis of environmental degradation is also a crisis of places. People are systematically building meaningless places. We must develop a way of understanding the built environment and the natural landscape. True renewal, will require a change in the way we structure experience for understanding both the natural land and the constructed world.

Since, the spiritual dimension and moral obligation have been discarded by the modern. Materialism divorced from ethics has corrupted the society. Therefore, more and more people are turning to Spirituality, Yoga and Meditation. Religious people are searching for the lost grid of spirituality in religion. Thus, there is a growing need of buildings to cater this need of people.

There are spatial qualities and architectural elements based on experiential background and emotional attachments.

To identify and define these connections, one has to go beyond the basic observation of signs and symbols, and analyse the spatial qualities and architectural elements which stimulate senses.


A brief study of design tools, which are capable of making the experience soul stirring. These include – form, space, volume, geometry, scale and proportions, light and colour.

Historical and symbolic aspects of spiritual spaces have already been discussed. (Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple, Vol. 2; Sir Banister Fletcher’s a History of Architecture, Sir Banister Fletcher, Dan Cruickshank; Indian Architecture (Buddhist and Hindu Period), Percy Brown) Thus this study will be focused towards the very fundamental architectural criterion and spatial impression on individual’s mind.

The study does not discuss in detail many issues, like evolution, construction, etc. But focuses on the internal design aspects, concerning the designing of a spiritual space, which are known and acknowledged.

Study should avoid commenting on the beliefs and rituals of various religions, but should debate towards the evolution and change of spatial qualities and form.


Study of sacred spaces of all faiths is not possible within the limited time frame.

A study of the built environment shall be undertaken which shall include only the spiritual aspect, the qualitative parameters and not the technical evaluation of the built form.

Considering the time frame provided for the completion of the study, primary case studies taken are done from Delhi only.

It would have been desirable to study how sacred can be woven into the everyday as well.


The study is intended to be broken into subheads that will make it easier to understand the topic that talks about spiritual dimensions in sacred spaces and architectural qualities influencing human behaviour.



Trying to find the objectives of study.

Setting up the scope and limitations.



Through the survey of all possible data related to the topic or on architecture and human behaviour. This stage of the research includes collecting data that is directly or indirectly related to spiritual aspect of architectural spaces. This has been done through the printed form or from the internet, articles and discussions of peoples relating to the study.

Literature survey aims at sorting out case studies both inside and outside India and also at getting an review of what are the recent developments and events that are taking place in the field of spiritual architecture.



A study has been undertaken to understand the mental conditions of a man in different spaces and its relation with the creator. Through this the topic got defined and the question got framed.



As our concern is on human being, the structures affecting human mind around the world should have similarities. Search for the overlapping of spatial qualities in sacred structures around the world.



To make a framework of different issues and principles studied which can be applied on case studies. List of issues formulate questionnaire for the case studies and interviews.

List of issues:

Open and closed space

Portal or entrance

Path and surrounding landscape

Destination point

Form, geometry, proportion and scale

Articulation and symbolism

Light, colour and sound

Touch, smell and taste


Fig 1.1 ISKCON Temple, New Delhi

Fig 1.2 Cathedral Church of Redemption, New Delhi

Fig 1.3 Jama Masjid, New DelhiCASE STUDIES




Case studies are selected to understand the sacredness and the spiritual consciousness through the built, the purpose behind it. Case studies will throw some light on the spatial qualities of spiritual spaces. Suitable case studies will be undertaken to examine the need of the topic and its negligence in present day scenario.



All the information collected so far was then analysed thoroughly. An analysis of experiencing the sacred buildings to out the design tools that an architect can employ to create the desired spiritual experience.



After assimilation of all matter and analysis of material collected, conclusions are derived, as to, how an architect can use design tools to stimulate all the senses and make the experience of a spiritual space spiritual.



The sacred is never intentionally chosen, but in some way or the other revels itself.

-Eliade (1963)

The meaning of structured space, a meaning which we believe lies in its dynamic relationship to its human personality and to our mental health.

Fig 2.1 The self- Hindu thought (Source: Prof. H.D. Chayya)The environment in which humans operate has an important influence on their wellbeing and performance. Our structured environment is so important and, influence direct or indirect, on the shaping of personality and the choice as well as the attainment of goals. Emotional design and tangible interaction are compelling forms of enhancing user engagement. The combination of these modes of interaction can create a new dimension of human experience when physical movement in space or the manipulation of objects triggers emotions within an individual. By seamlessly integrating expressive tangible interaction techniques with ambient intelligence, that is, by creating environments that are sensitive and responsive to human gestures, meaningful experiences can be constructed.

Leon Festinger, Stanley Schachter and Krik Bach found in their detailed studies of one urban situation, that physical spaces play a very large part in the formation of community relationships …and even minor architectural feature, such as the position of staircase and mailboxes, had important effects on the social life of people. “The architect who builds a house or who designs a site plan, who decides which direction the houses will face and how close together they will be, also is, to a great extent, deciding the pattern of social life among the people who will live in those houses.”(Strengthening Weak Ties: Social Networks and Student Housing, Thesis, B. Design in Architecture, University of Florida, 2011)

Geoffrey Scott’s book “The Architecture of Humanism”, 1914, he said,” The architect models in space as a sculptor in clay. He designs the space as a work of art; that is, he attempts through his means to excite a certain mood in those who enter it.”

The view has been elaborated by others, among them Bruno Zevi, Architecture as Space, 1957: “the facade and walls of house. Church, or palace, no matter how beautiful they may be, is only the container, the box…; the content is the internal space.’

As Geoffrey Scott suggests,” Space itself is not obvious, cannot be visually perceived; one sees only objects in space; or the structural members that encloses the space. Space itself can only be sensed- that is, felt; its quality is apprehended by means of the senses, but its effect is upon the emotions, and cannot readily be rationalized, measured or depicted.

One can only gauge and describe accurately enough the adequacy or structural soundness, its provision for warmth, ventilation, sanitation, light, and other physical factors.

One can criticize its components in terms of proportion, texture, colour and other aesthetic considerations.

Fig. 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4 (Source: F.D.K.Ching, Architecture – Form, Space and Order 3rd edition)

Fig. 2.5 Non-sign II-art installation by Annie Hans and Daniel Mihalyo But beyond all of these, there is an overall effect exerted upon one’s consciousness by architectural space which defies precise definition.”(Scott, Geoffrey, The Architecture of Humanism, 1914)

Architecture truly conceived, is nothing less than the conscious and careful determination of our whole structured environment and leaves an impression on individual’s mind, which can be controlled. Like a stage setting that controls the movements of actors and defines where and under what circumstances they can meet, our habitat channels our movements and influence our contacts. If we think of buildings at all, it is usually when we are jolted by some outrage, such as a stalled elevator or a leaky roof, long columned corridor, a double height space. (Walter, E.V., 1988, Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment)

Table 2.1 The concept of the spirit of a space (Source: Author)Some of the architectural integrant which affect human psychology are:

Five senses






The basic elements






Instruments of perception (to acquire inward)






Work organs

(to act outwards)

Speech communication (exit)

Hands work (finger)

Feet mobility

Anus discard

Genitals procreate

Control centre force

Mind (flow of thoughts and emotions)

Intellect (power of discrimination)

The presiding force (“PRANA” or the life force)

The cosmos consciousness or the supreme energy






Landscape transformation





Related technological fields


Texture surfaces

Texture forms

Repose odour


Emotional Design

Emotion is a fundamental aspect of what makes us human; it shapes our cognition, perception, memory, and learning and it colours our past, present, and future experiences. Emotional value is important in design for enhancing user experience as Donald Norman explains: “Our attachment is really not to the thing, it is to the relationship, to the meanings and feelings the thing represents.” Emotional design then, provides an aesthetic interaction that engages users on an emotional, meaningful, and psychological level. Whereas affective computing focuses on the system recognizing and adjusting to what it believes the user is feeling, emotional design focuses on the emotional experience.

Physical and Tangible Interfaces

Human movement is often spurred by intention and motivation within people. Tangible user interfaces allow users to interact with virtual information by sensing and manipulating physical environments through objects, surfaces, and spaces.

Relation of architecture and human psychology is far interrelated. Appropriate use of various architectural components has the capacity of enlightening the atmosphere whereas inappropriate use does the opposite. The building forms, the functions incorporated in it, colours, negative and positive spaces in and around it may be the few points but architecture is directly attached with human psychology from conscious to subconscious level.


For decades, scientists have tried to understand the mysterious power of what is called the “placebo effect.” Placebo studies prove how powerfully we are influenced – not just emotionally but physiologically – by how we perceive the world around us.

Articulation and architectural conditions in homes can have powerful and long-lasting psychological impact. The placebo effect offers a clue that points to how we might create curative environments.

The placebo effect as a therapy, the fact that believers in a wide variety of ancient “faith” systems also claim similar effects, as have modern scientists who study mind/body medicine.

Fig 2.6 Illustration of the interrelationship of stress, belief and how they may impact on the placebo effect and the relaxation response. (Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com)In other words, it impacts an ancient part of our brain which we share with many other species. Endogenous opioids, which are naturally produced by the brain in small amounts and play a key role in the relief of pain and anxiety, have been implicated in placebo analgesia.



Does spirituality needs sacred spaces and vice versa? Does spirituality really is incomplete without architecture? Is it not the quality of the inner life, open to a virtual dimension that transcends the sensible, that matters?

Fig 3.1 Lodhi Garden, New Delhi (Source: Author)Open space has two different meanings that work together to create sacred places that are inclusive and aware of many elements that may be exclusive to any potential user of the space. An open space is open to the public, meaning anyone of any race, faith, culture, or belief is able to enter the space. The space is for the whole community of different people rather than just one particular group. Or, an open space is one that feels welcoming and non-threatening to those that spend time in it; it feels like home for the soul. The design of the space and the placement of features such as portals, paths, universal symbols that have meaning across all religions, nations and ethnic groups, lend to the openness of the space by inviting those outside of the space to enter it. The combination of a space being open on both a physical and spiritual level is what makes up “Open Spaces, Sacred Places.”


Architecture is the first pioneer on the highway toward the adequate realization of inner self. For this means it levels space for self-realization, informs his external environment, and builds a fit place for the aggregation of those assembled having similar faith, as a defence against the threatening of tempest, against rain, and savage animals.

Besides the variety of buildings and design approaches in the effort to create a space where man can feel spirituality, there can be found some common design tools that help to create the soul stirring experience. The following discuss some of these parameters.

The portal or threshold is the entryway into the sacred space, which helps to separate the space from the greater surrounding space and invites you to step inside. A portal can be created with a hardscape such as a gate or a portico, or with simple planting.

Fig 3.2 Portal to Garden, (Source: http://www.luminous-landscape.com)

Fig 3.4 Open space, (Source: http://www.luminous-landscape.com)

Fig 3.3 Pathway in a Garden, (Source: http://www.luminous-landscape.com)The path invites exploration and discovery along the route. It meanders through spaces, fuels the imagination and entices one to see where it may lead.

The destination point is an end point within a space that inexplicably draws visitors. It may be a resting place, such as a bench, or a beautiful natural feature, such as a gurgling fountain or rain curtain. It is a point within the sacred space where those who visit always end up. Sacred spaces may have more than one destination point.

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Space and Volume

Fig. 3.5 Space defining elements, Source: F.D.K.Ching, Architecture – Form, Space and Order 3rd edition) Space, whether of the individual or the universal, possesses a unique quality of experiencing. It is hyper sensitive, besides being super potential. Sense of surround defines the space as separate and apart from the overall outdoor environment. Visitors who enter the space feel as though they are entering into a room. There are natural or man-made boundaries (or a combination of both) that delineate the space within the greater environment. These boundaries provide a subtle feeling of shelter, enabling people to feel safe and enjoy their time spent in the space. (Nicolas, W. Robert Leo A Daly, 2004, building Type Basics for Places of Worship)

By generating a continuous flow of spaces, each act movement becomes an experience. Each component of architecture becomes important and provides for this linkage. It can be by repetition of elements, alteration in scale and proportion, staggering, light, texture, and colour and also by using perspective as a device to accentuate the drama. (Robinson,J., 1979, Religious Buildings)

Fig. 3.6 Form and Space, Source: F.D.K.Ching, Architecture – Form, Space and Order 3rd edition) Form and Geometry

Architectural form is the point of contact between mass and space “Architectural Form required to fulfil its functional requirements for that is the reason for its being – both physical and spiritual.” (Saarinen, E., op.cit. pg 14)Every form conveys a meaning. It is important to understand how form can transmit a spiritual meaning. Certain shapes and forms are conventional associated with certain meanings.

Scale and Proportion

Fig. 3.7 Vastupurusa (Source: Charles Correa, Vistara; Architecture of India)

Fig. 3.8 Vitruvius Man (Source: Leonardo Da vinci.stanford.edu)Scale refers to the size of something compared to reference standard or size of something else. Deciding the scale of a sacred space is a common design concern. Some blend into the fabric of the neighbouring community and landscape; others stands out as landmarks, easily recognized for their special purpose. Generally the sacred spaces take monumental scale to create an atmosphere of awe, mystery and magnificence. The scale of the interior spaces, the size and weight of doors, and the exposed structural columns and beams all serve to denote the special quality of the sacred space.

Fig. 3.9 LeCorbusier modular Man (Source: Corbusier, The modulor)Proportion refers to the proper or harmonious relation of one part to another or to the whole. While the designer usually has a range of choices when determining the proportions of things, some are given to us by the nature and the man himself.

Human body proportions are used not merely as numbers with an inherent harmony, but as a system of measurements that could govern lengths, surfaces, and volumes. It can lend itself to an infinity of combination; it ensures unity with diversity; the miracle of numbers.

Proportional buildings and scale link spiritual architecture to the mathematical structure of the cosmos. The building should relate well not only to the human scale but also the psyche.

Light and Colour

Fig. 3.12 Khajuraho Temple (Source: Kota Kesava Karthik)

Fig. 3.11 Prayer at Church (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org)Light is regarded to be the most important component in definition of space or the manifestation of form in an architectural space; it not only defines the space but also gives meaning to it. In this study one looks at how light can create a place of worship; how to make a quiet, enclosed, isolated space, space full of activities, filled with vitality.

Fig. 3.10 Khirki Masjid (Source: Jegmet Wangchuk)

Colour is the attribute that most clearly distinguishes a form from its environment. We respond to bright colours, for instance red, with the emotional part of our brain. First, our muscles get tense, and then we lean towards the colour. Our respiration and heart rate goes up and the blood pressure starts rising. The opposite reactions occur when we see light colours such as blue. Our muscles relax, the heart and respiration rate drops and the blood pressure lowers.

It also affects the visual weight of a form. Gradation of colour exist; from pale to brilliant; from cold to warm. Thus colour expression is also full of meaning.

Texture is an important asset of colour. It is the visual and especially tactile quality given to a surface by shape and arrangement, and the proportions of the parts. Texture also determines to which the surfaces of a form reflect or absorb incident light. It gives an expression to the surface, thereby contributing to the overall impression.


Colors Characteristics

Color’s Actions


Stimulating, exciting, provocative, dynamic

Increased enthusiasm, interest, and energy


Happy, sweet, spirited, romantic, youthful

Calm and relaxing feelings


Wholesome, rich, durable, rustic, sheltering

A connection with the natural earth and the stability this brings


Friendly, vital, tangy, energizing, inviting

Increases creativity and gives relief from things becoming too serious


Dependable, cool, serene, constant, quiet

Broadens your perspective in learning new information


Refreshing, healing, fresh, soothing, nature

Gives freedom to pursue new ideas


Sensual, elegant, mysterious, regal, spiritual

Calms over activity or energizes from depression


Strong, classic, elegant, powerful, mysterious

Opens the door to mystery and prepares for the unknown


Warming, sunny, cheerful, luminous, enlightening

Gives clarity for decision making and sharper memory and concentration skills


Pure, bright, innocent, lightweight, pristine

Starts a fresh beginning

Fig. 3.13 Colours in Culture (Source: www.informationisbeautiful.net)

Table. 3.1 Concept of Colours (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org)Symbolism


We can identify iconography depicted in architecture of these buildings as the signs and symbols and the inspirations taken directly from some other structure or theories and thoughts spread across the world.

A symbol is the juxtaposition that is, a co-optation of visible forms brought forth to demonstrate some invisible matter. One needs to identify with one’s religion that is where symbols play an important role.( Jose’Pereira, 2004, The Sacred Architecture of Islam)

Table. 3.2 Iconography in major religions (Source: Jose’Pereira, The Sacred Architecture of Islam, 2004)Sacred symbolism is considered to be present in every major religious building, around the world. Iconography of sacred geography in three major religions of the world:







Lofty towers



One that in Kabba



Present in courtyard




Ritual ablutions in courtyard

Place of Baptism

But is it signs and symbolism only which draw an impact on our behaviour. When we get in to some space, is the aesthetical and visual perception only gets conceived in our mind.

Fig. 3.15 Temple Bells (Source: Author)

Fig. 3.14 Prayer at church (Source: http://www.mlive.com)

Fig. 3.16 Reciting Quran in Mardrsa (Source: http://www.mlive.com)SOUND

The reverberant sound quality created by the proportions and the materials of sacred spaces set them apart from the ordinary. Sacred music, singing, chanting, the ringing of temple and church bells and intoning of prayers characterize specific rituals. The change in sound quality from the cacophony of the street to the harmony resonant silence signifies entry into a sacred space.


The experience of touch identifies a sacred space; the weight of the door handle, the textures of materials on walls and seating, and the hardness of stone underfoot. A change in temperature, such as the transition from the blazing heat of a busy city street into the cool and solitude of an interior can also denote a sacred space.

Most of the textures are touched by vision, iconography, formed an integral part of a temple and a church architecture to convey the complete narrative.

Though the following two are not translated into architectural terms, but they form an indispensable part of a complete spiritual experience.


Fig. 3.20 Garlands for devotees (Source: Author)

Fig. 3.18 IItr, scented oil

Fig. 3.19 Votive Candles (Source: Author)

Fig. 3.17 Agarbatti (Source: http://www.mlive.com)Incense is used extensively in the Roman Catholic and Buddhist traditions as a symbol of prayers going up to the deity. The smell of agarbatti and the flowers offered to deity are indispensable parts of the rituals for Hindu as well as many other faiths. The incense sticks are used even in meditation centers as the intoxicating smell stimulates your senses to the positive and calms you down.


Fig. 3.23 Christmas cake (Source: www.google.com)

Fig. 3.22 Korma (Source: Author)

Fig. 3.21 Laddo (Source: Kota Kesava Karthik)Though this sensory experience is missing in many of the architecture, it still is an integral part of many religious experiences. All the Hindu temples have Prasad and Chanramrit (sweet water) as an indispensable part of the worshipping ritual. Some believe that this custom of sharing sweets is a memorial of the sweetness of the deities. Christians offer holy water in a similar manner. The prasad is obligatory in the Gurudwara too.



The Hindu temple is essentially the “House Of God”. It is not a place for congregational worship. Though congregation for religious ceremonies do take place, but the worshipper’s communication with the divine is his own personal experience. The worshipper goes individually to the house of God and invokes his blessings. Stella Kramisch, in her book, “The Hindu Temple” says,” the intellect of the age, absorbed largely in divine contemplation, is reflected in the temple idol


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