December 01, 2009

Faith & Form Features Dialogue on New Multifaith Space

The transformation of Houghton Chapel and addition of a new Multifaith Center required an intense dialogue with both the past and future at Wellesley College.

Design From Dialogue: Houghton Chapel and Multifaith Center at Wellesley College 
by the Reverend Victor Kazanjian and Stephen Kieran, FAIA 
The renovation of Houghton Chapel and Multifaith Center at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, is a project profoundly rooted in dialogue: between architect and client, between historical and contemporary programs and spaces, and among the people of diverse cultures and religions who constitute the campus community. This dialogue moved the project beyond implementing preconceived notions of what a renovated chapel space might look like, and instead impelled us to create spaces within an historic structure that would welcome all and would invite the campus to experience the diversity of the human community. 
Prominent on college and university campuses across the country are buildings, often referred to simply as “the chapel,” that once reflected the religious component of the educational missions of these institutions. Originally home to daily gatherings for prayer and ethical instruction, mostly in the Protestant Christian tradition, these chapel buildings have seen diminished use in the past half-century as educational institutions have renounced their religious past and have embraced a secular context for their future. Chapels on many campuses are religious anachronisms and function mostly as additional meeting spaces for community gatherings and lectures, or as historical buildings offering a quaint stop on college tours or a venue for the occasional wedding or memorial service. Since the mid-1990s growing religious diversity on campuses, reflecting the changing demographics of American society and the internationalization of American colleges and universities, has caused a rethinking of the role of religious and spiritual life in higher education and has thus brought new focus on religious and spiritual spaces, leading to the development of multifaith chapels. 
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