Reviving the Spirit: an Architectural Reflection of Sacred in the Secular

Sacred Space Site Model

In an increasingly secular society, the significance of the spirit has become an afterthought despite being a fundamental human attribute influencing our everyday lived experiences. If the majority of our time is spent inside spaces, what is the capacity of architecture to fill the spiritual void for those seeking it?

Given the particularity of the spirit, the thesis investigates both secular and sacred spirituality through a series of lived experiences. If architecture is the physical reaction of the events and experiences that take place within it, how may certain experiences facilitate an approach to designing architecture? By analysing existing overlaps between secular and sacred spiritual experiences, the thesis proposes an architectural prospection on reviving spirituality in a secular context.

Defining spirituality is an almost impossible task as the experience and its triggers are specific to each individual on an emotional, spatial, physical, and social scale. Theorists such as Rumi, Rudolf Otto and Jones Wainwright all emphasise spirituality as varying from person to person depending on their lived experiences. Rumi approaches spirituality as an inward experience particular to the three levels of existence – the body, the mind and the soul. Rudolf Otto speaks of spirituality as being a felt condition rather than one that is easy to grasp with the mind. Due to the particularity of the spirit, the initial stage of the thesis was dedicated to a personal reflection on spirituality through studying lived spiritual experiences in secular and sacred contexts. These experiences include pilgrimage, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and congregational prayers. The felt emotions and atmospheres were broken down through media studies, a way of visualising the lived experiences for an audience of a different background. Through this study, the definition of spirituality derived extended itself to a state of greater awareness that transcends beyond the physical realm.

Ikha Media Studies
Media studies on spiritual experiences

The personal notion of spirituality was translated into the design of a sacred space. A space that opens up to all seekers of spirituality while rooted in Islamic principles. Site analysis was carried out in three stages; analysing the distribution of mosques in Auckland City, studying the streets around the chosen site, and analysing the immediate neighbours around the site. Takapuna on the North Shore became the chosen site as it houses a number of churches and chapels but no mosques, leaving Muslims on the shore to worship in makeshift spaces.

Auckland City Map
Auckland City Mosque Investigation
Image Schemata Analysis of the neighbouring sites

The notion of experiences became a critical design language as a way of guiding the audience through the space. Key experiences were modelled and rearranged on site, to create relationships from one experience to the other. The set of experiences followed the transition from a secular to a sacred space specific to that a Muslim experiences – call to prayer being the threshold space, the ritual of cleansing following it, prayer, and self reflection.

Designing a set of experiences

Key planning moves include: shifted orientation towards the Kaaba, a system of filtering spaces, level differentiation, hierarchy of heights, and a garden that further emphasises the Qibla grid on the site. The site plan below shows a break away from traditional Islamic symbolism where instead, a system of planes is adopted which asks users to discover and reflect upon spirituality.

Site Plan
Sacred Space Site Plan
Key experiences in the Sacred Space
Experience models: threshold corridor, cleansing chamber, sacred space, and the meditation chambers
4 Experience Details
Drawings of the four experiences
Section AA
Cross section drawing of the site
Outdoor Perspectives Together
Garden perspectives showing follies that objectify the notion of spirituality
Site planes axo
Axonometric drawing of the site showing a system of planes and the differentiation between levels

During the Muslim holiday known as Eid, the neighbouring square becomes an extension of the site as a place for festivals to take place. The same notion of planes is applied to the square, however, these are temporary and adjustable that allow for both prayer and eating festivities to take place.

Perspective drawing of the square during Eid, a religious festival
Connection to square
Plan drawing of the connection to the neighbouring square

To conclude, the thesis translated a personal perspective of spirituality into the design of a sacred space at the heart of which is a mosque. While the design stems from the sequence of events for a Muslim, it opens up to seekers of spirituality from all backgrounds for reflection. Through the design of a sacred space, the thesis proposes a personal reflection of spirituality in secular and sacred contexts.