A: Yes. Every client and every site is unique, but when you’re working with a religious client or someone that has specific beliefs, there’s always that extra layer of attention to special needs and sensitivities. For instance, community is usually very important. The design needs to read in such a way that the focus is on the community and not on outside influences. That makes the transition into and out of different areas very important.
One example is a Jewish temple we recently designed the site plan for in Massachusetts. The connection between the inside of the temple and nature was very important to the congregation. They wanted the interior to have views of the surrounding woods and of the courtyard. At the same time, we had to keep in mind that they could be hosting as many as 1,000 people on the site to as few as a handful, and these spaces needed to accommodate and resonate with users in either situation. So we had to design these spaces to provide enough context and enough flexibility for all types of users and events.
|Temple Beth Elohim in Newton, Mass. is nestled|
among the trees to connect to nature
Q: Are there special considerations for designing these kinds of sites?
A: Every project has different goals. And with worship spaces, there is an even stronger personal connection, which must be considered. But the religious calendar, the beliefs, sustainability—it’s all relevant and important. Where sustainability is concerned, any client who plans to stay in a space for a long time is interested in being sustainable. And many of these clients place importance on stewardship—in the Jewish faith principles like tikkun olam (“fixing what is broken”) and bal taschchit (“do not destroy”) tie back to taking care of each other and the environment. So very often sustainability is a natural fit for these projects.
|Stone was specifically chosen for the temple's |
courtyard to reflect the look of Israel
A: No, but you have to be a great listener and really immerse yourself in your client’s beliefs and understand how those beliefs should manifest themselves through design. For my projects, I’ve spent time going to services and meeting with members of the congregation and the leaders so I could better understand their values. At the temple, I really enjoyed listening to the liturgy and learning the stories, which were translated into the design. It’s so personal for the client that you get a lot of positive feedback, which is very rewarding.