In September the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion produced a survey examining
American piety in the 21st century. They discovered that in the last fifteen years of polling
the number of American people who declared no religious affiliation has been
overestimated. Many of these people who marked the box for ‘no religion’ answered
‘where do you worship’ quite differently. They responded with a ‘place.’ This raises a
number of questions about today’s society, including: are we disconnecting from the
stigma of religion to reconnect with ourselves and our culture? What are these places we
associate with and why do they attract us? If it’s not religion that attracts us, what is it?
In New York City crowds flock to the nightclub Limelight, now Avalon, set in a building
that once housed a church. In Saratoga Springs, New York, a young artist bought an
abandoned church and made it his home and studio. In Pittsburgh, a restaurant graces
the space where Sunday brunches have replaced Sunday services. Do these
transformations indicate a trend in American culture? Are we seeking ways to use the
once religious to create new spaces that feed our spiritual needs by separating them from
the institution of religion? This thesis will explore the transformation of a sacred space
into a secular structure disassociated from traditional religion while retaining its
spirituality to reflect a changing American culture.
To meet this challenge questions must be asked. Questioning the connection between the
religious, spiritual and sacred is at the heart of this project. What is the connection
between community and religion; community and spirituality? Are there ethics
surrounding the transformation of a religious space? Are there other examples of sacred
to secular transformations in our culture, and if so, what will this thesis gain from their
examination? These are just some of the questions to answer in the coming months.
In the course of answering these questions and those to come, a particular region of study
must be determined, i.e., continent, country, city, etc. Second, it must be resolved which
religions will be included, or if not religion, ethnicities. Lastly, a typology must be
chosen. For example, possible typologies could include: a church, ancient temple,
synagogue, mosque, cemetery, residential shrine, natural phenomenon, and a man-made
wonder (e.g. Stonehenge, the pyramids, etc.). Following the chosen existing structure(s)
the transformation spaces could include: an art co-op, restaurant, nightclub, community
center, residence, school, political venue, movie theatre, memorial, etc..
To gather information on typologies this thesis will combine traditional researching
methods with unconventional ones. This is a community project, so it seems fitting that
the community should be included, at the very least, approached. Local priests, family
members, friends and acquaintances will be contacted and probed for suggestions, sites
and interviews. Conventional research of this topic will include academic journals,
books, the Baylor survey, articles from popular magazines and existing examples of
transformed sacred spaces and site visits. Research will cover the history of religious
spaces and their symbolism. The proposed design will mix the past with symbolism to
create a space destined to test the boundaries between sacred and secular.
In the end, this thesis will prove not only an interesting study but one that will further
examine our current transformative culture. It will leave the reader with a better
understanding of what makes a space conventionally sacred and what speaks to us
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the degree of Masters of Arts
Corcoran College of Art + Design (Washington, D.C.)
Masters Theses from the Corcoran College of Art + Design
The Corcoran College of Art + Design has non-exclusive publication rights. Permission is granted to quote from the thesis with the customary acknowledgement of the source. Copyright for each article is retained by the author. Republication in any form requires permission from the author of the thesis.