Pop Up Places of Worship
While religious structures do not satisfy needs pertaining to an individual’s biological survival, they do nourish one’s identity within a collective. They provide a familiar place of being. This is something that we consider synonymous with being human and a requirement for the persistence of culture.
With issues like rapid urbanization, unprecedented forced migration, and an increasingly frequent devastation of built environments by natural disasters, informal settlements are taking on a new role in contemporary societies. Many of these places, while intended to be temporary, end up existing for years — even decades — and are home to massive populations. Children are often born, raised, and educated in such places. Families grow and develop while knowing little more than the adhoc, emergency shelters that have been deployed. Understandably, with such a reduction of amenity that much of the world takes for granted, the majority of the limited resources available are dedicated to the basic needs of the individual’s survival. These settlements, however, are often comprised of entire communities — groups of people that have shared histories, traditions and customs — but these cultural institutions are often lost in the midst of the desperation that surrounds, for example, refugee life. Among the most prevalent of these cultural notions is that of religious practices. This projects attempts to recognize that religious faith and practice, when all else is stripped away, is often the most fundamental thing that tethers people together. It tests this by proposing temporary places for communities to gather, worship and partake in their collective. While the exploration’s relevance could certainly extend to all cultures for whom such practices are relevant, a project scope limited to the three ‘world’ religions was established for practical reasons.
It was of course necessary to develop a coherent explanation of our views on both pluralism as an architectural concept and what it means to live in a pluralist society. A frequent response to this in contemporary culture is to design abstracted, singular spaces that can accommodate all faiths. This would certainly shrink the scope of the project and also lessen the risk offending through cultural definition. However, we believe that this in fact would be antithetical to our purpose, for, as we have discovered, when one is trying to discover the very basic most fundamental physical manifestation of these cultural identifiers, a precision and familiarity is required. With that said, there is a proposal for each religion, but each structure is abstracted within the confines of its respective tradition.
The ability for the structures to be easily packed, shipped, and deployed begins to interrogate the urban stereotypes that have typically been associated with ineffable space. In the areas where the social, political, or natural climates are such where we imagine these being deployed, we believe that they can serve as a crucial place for community development.
The Jewish people’s story is unique amongst the Abrahamic faith in that the degree to which forced dispersion has played a role in shaping the global diaspora. A history of oppression and migration has seen the settling of Jewish communities in all sorts of cultures. This has made the development of a typology that is appropriate for a Synagogue, or even any notion of a recognizable synagogue, virtually impossible. Synagogues often adopted the vernacular of whatever location they are located, or, “many of the differences in synagogue types are regional rather than chronological”. Without a contemporary model to look to, we sought out the architectural lineage of the Israelites for inspiration.
The pop-up synagogue has a distinct parti that maintains a strong center. As mentioned, the courtyard of the Sanctuary in the wilderness was accessible and for all Israelites and the arranging of the small congregation around a very legible center is derivative of this. This non-hierarchical distribution of the users lends itself to a certain democratic attitude that we feel is consistent with Jewish theology. The center is symbolically reserved for the rabbi, the torah, or whoever is assuming a role of teaching or leadership and is a “reflection of the continuing centrality of the Temple in Jewish life”. It is also meant to reference the hierarchical nature of the tabernacle and the tradition of certain sacred spaces implying a level of exclusivity, and, in turn a display of reverence for God’s authority.
Both the Temples and the sanctuary featured a strong layered quality, not only of architectural space, but of accessibility. They were both surrounded by a wall, a gesture that has great significance in not only Judaism, but the civic and national identity of the Israel’s history, and further communicates a sense of strength as well as defensiveness. The monolithic shapes and forms that are a result have become icons of a culture, and the taught fabric skin of the pop-up synagogue is meant to evoke such images.
One does not have to search long before recognizing the historical significance of the hung or draped partition within the history of the Israelites. The specifications of the historical spaces as recorded in Exodus and 2 Chronicles call for the finest fabrics and drapery to highlight the most sacred of spaces. The need to embroider or the cultural associations with fine threads, has since faded, but the pop-up synagogue references this age old tradition not for its capacity for decoration or extravagance, but for its utility as a compactable and durable material.
Church buildings, while certainly have evolved and changed throughout history, have managed to, through simple consistency and culturally imposed tropes, maintain a certain familiarity with respect to architectural form. Icons of the faith have stood for centuries and serve as some of the foremost tourist and economic attractions in Europe and around the world. As a consequence, certain shapes and symbols have become synonymous with the faith and asking the questions “what does a church look like”, may be the easiest to answer out of the three Abrahamic traditions. We tried to reference a variety of these familiar attributes.
Perhaps the most recognizable formal attribute associated with Christendom is that of the soaring walls and structure of the Gothic cathedrals, as these particular monuments “still exercise a powerful attraction” and even contemporary churches still “mime their forms”. While the nature of the pop-up chapel does not afford such monumental heights, the two-walled structure does invoke the familiar shapes of past. The height of the walls, while modest in comparison, do reach an impressive height considering that the assembly procedures do not call for the use of any ladders. The ground assembly and lifting of the structural frames along the application of all wall panels taking place at the bottom of the structure allow for a fairly impressive peak height. To exaggerate this further, the upper most wall panel, that which wraps around the curved peak, is transparent and allows for a concentrated band of light to stretch the length of the structure. This type of articulation not only has countless precedents in Christian architecture but helps evoke the transcendent structures of old, albeit, at a modest scale.
The form of the chapel, while certainly recalling the peaked vaults of the dark ages, performs a sort of double duty thanks to its size. The home church, as mentioned not only refers to as the literal beginnings of Christian congregations, but also and community-based theology that promotes the union with Christ and His Church as being the believers temporary home until the afterlife. Scripture often draws this connection between the church, the notion of home, or the concept of a household. The simple gabled roof is meant to act as a icon of the most simple house — a reference to a familiar place that that in potentially tumultuous times, may act as a refuge of comfort and security.
Christian imagery and symbols have long adorned the structures that house its congregations. Whether its sculptures of the Madonna or wooden crosses, icons of the faith have always played a significant role in its Architecture and it is often integrated into the buildings itself. We chose to embrace this and create a structural frame that depends on two large cross forms at each end of the gable structure. The frames are then clad in a patterned paneling that adds much needed structural integrity to the panels themselves, but adds a modest level of pattern-based décor to the interior and exterior of the chapel.
The Pop-Up Mosque forces us to ask ourselves many questions and be incredibly reductive about a faith with many rituals. Like the synagogue and the chapel, we reduce such a complex building typology to a simple question, what does a mosque look like? What are the critical elements? And how can this simple structure perform to accommodate the consistent use of five daily prayers.
The most intriguing difference between the program of the mosque and the other two structures, is the integration of the mosque into the daily lives of those who use it. It is critical for our Mosque to be a welcoming and casual space due to its extensive use and prayer five times a day. The openness of the mosque also creates a dialogue between the original mosques of the Prophet. By using a very light construction, we are still able to reference a “courtyard” while still being covered, it is simultaneously interior and exterior.
The repetition of the vault is derived from some of the most traditional mosque forms. The vault was a light structural system that allowed early mosques to create large expansive spaces for prayer. The verticality of the vault also begins to reference the ascension of Muhammad and a connection to Allah. The vault also created a system for vertical growth as well, as seen in the Mosque of Cordoba the vault is stacked on top of itself as a way of providing taller spaces. While many people associate the form of the dome with Islamic architecture, the vault is the primitive form and has been associated with the mosque since the beginning.
Although mosque’s have a tendency to work within a strong perimeter, they reference a geometry both
in ornament and in built form that implies the ability to create a repetitious module. Halls of columns, or expansive exteriors of domes or vaults seem to be closely integrated into the traditional forms of mosque construction. Again looking at the Mosque of Cordoba both interior and exterior conditions speak to the concept of repetition. It is common for the interior of the mosque to house a field of columns expressing the repetitious nature of the module. On the exterior the repetition of the dome or vault is also expressed. The design of the pop up mosque references this by creating a form that can be repeated in all directions as many times as necessary.