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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Architecture (M.Arch.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Religious architecture has historically played a primary role in both the study and the development of architectural practices and theories. Undoubtedly, this influence is tied to the position which religious institutions have historically held in shaping cultural values. However, American culture has transitioned into a position where religious organizations are often no longer the primary authority for determining cultural, social, and interpersonal values for many Americans. Additionally many individuals have, for one reason or another, become uncomfortable or feel unwelcome in traditional church structures due to the historical hierarchies associated with them, the innate formality of the spaces, the perceptions of expected behaviors, or discomfort with language and interpretations of spirituality or religion. These changes have had a major impact on the economic and functional dynamics to which religious institutions must now adhere. While churches remain a venue for architectural expression, they no longer hold the position as the primary source for considering architectural culture; which has, for the most part, transitioned to museums, cultural, commercial, or office buildings. It is clear that the manner in which religious organizations operate and conduct themselves must therefore evolve in order to respond to these new forces, and so must the architecture which houses them. Only by adapting to these new pressures can these religious organizations hope to remain relevant and active in the changing cultural climate where religious institutions and religious individuals are often greeted with skepticism and suspicion.

Many religious institutions have already recognized this need for change. The manner in which they hold their services and reach out to the community has changed in response to new cultural mores and trends. Architecture, as the structure which houses these changing religious organizations, must adapt to these new situations as well. The architecture houses, and therefore must adapt to, the new processes and practices which must function within these institutions. Architecture however, must also take into account other facets of the organization beyond just these functions. It has the ability to achieve many other objectives which can support the ongoing goals of these contemporary religious institutions. Since architecture acts as one of the fundamental outward faces of these organizations, it has a major and fundamental influence upon how the public perceive a religious institution.

It is the intent of this thesis to investigate how church architecture may facilitate community oriented goals. These goals include, but are not limited to: creating an environment where individual exploration of spirituality becomes an accepted part of community activities, promoting localized economic development, instilling within the community a sense of value and ownership to generate community pride and stakeholdership, increasing community outreach, and the development of other programs which activate and benefit the local area. With regards to the architectural exploration, the intention is to approach this by addressing questions concerning perception, style, outward appearance, proximity, and operation. This includes consideration of programmatic functions which, while they may not be inherent to churches, may be useful in generating community interaction and intersection. Additionally, architecture has certain psychological capabilities which may be utilized to address personal reservations regarding churches. By considering what architectural elements are symbolic of religious organizations and strategically employing or eliminating them, one can build upon or counter the impressions which may exist about what a church is or should be. The examination of these issues within the context of an abandoned local mill building expands the richness and potential for this type of investigation by exploring its fundamental contributions to the historic development of the community. By introducing a spiritual component to this historically secular building one alters associations and defuses potential misgivings, as well as highlights a more welcoming avenue for promoting spiritual exploration within the community. By promoting adjacency and proximity of everyday activities and beneficial programs to hospitable spiritual activities, the architecture has the potential to meld different uses together. Additionally, the community aspect of this project may have the capacity to expand, specifically when considering how architecture may have the potential to promote a spiritually open community.

Furthermore, by considering these goals in the context of an abandoned mill building, it is hoped that parallels can be made between the historical significance of the structure, and that of religion; and that by studying the two in tandem one can elevate the status of both. The focus here is not upon elevating religion or history for their own sake but rather in lifting them up as symbols of the communities which they serve and using them to lead development and revitalization in their locations.


First Advisor

Kathleen Lugosch

Second Advisor

Caryn Brause