Future100: Students Investigate Sacred Space

In designing places for worship, reflection, and ritual, architecture and interior design students question how design bridges the sacred and profane.

Henry Chu’s design for a writers’ retreat in the Mojave Desert proposes sculptural structures under the desert sun. A complex of shifting shadows invites visiting artists to wander, poetically losing trackof time and space in the hopes of disconnecting from temporal concerns and finding inspiration. Courtesy Henry Chu

A Zoroastrian fire temple, a Shinto worship center, a Christian chapel at the water’s edge, a desert retreat for a writer, a memorial to victims of gun violence, a hotel for being alone, and a church built to bring a community together. These student projects may span multiple faiths and interpretations of spirituality, but all achieve a striking intimacy and an emphasis on solitary reflection that make them sacred.

Chloe Cudney’s proposal for a monument to those killed in the Las Vegas massacre of October 1, 2017, uses interlocking volumes and a spiral circulation pattern to create a collection of intimate spaces for remembrance, reflection, and healing.

If Cudney’s memorial is a place to bring people together, Edward Han Myo Oo’s model of a Hotel To Be Alone is a place designed for isolation. Though it’s a four-story building, the rooms within, and particularly the sleeping quarters are rendered in dark gray models and evoke a sense of tightness and solitude. The designer bills it as a meditation center, but one can’t help thinking of a prison.

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While not explicitly religious, Henry Chu’s vision for a writers’ retreat in the Mojave Desert suggests that creating art can benefit from the same kind of time-bending aloneness as meditation. Composed of multiple spiral forms that rise out of the sand, it’s a structure meant to inspire visitors to wander, find a nook, and lose track of time.

A collection of concepts centered on religion proved the importance of designing within a framework of natural forces for more traditional places of worship as well. A waterfront chapel designed by Ashley Schwartz is based on an extensive sun study, so that the setting and rising sun illuminates the structure in different ways depending on the season.

Joana Sotomayor’s study for a Zoroastrian fire temple takes that ancient symbolism and brings it indoors, even accommodating a contemporary form of sky burial, a unique Zoroastrian funeral rite.

In a plan for a Shinto shrine in Vancouver, Canada, Elizabeth Koenig lays out a pathway to bring worshippers from the outside world into the sacred space of the shrine through a naturalistic garden that emphasizes the spirituality of nature.

A final project contends that the sacred and worldly need not be completely separated. A church community center designed by Chinne Okoronkwo is an insistent reminder that people worship not only to be alone but to come together, and that sacred spaces can provide the kinds of worldly amenities—places to play, eat, and socialize—that are foundational to a strong community of faith.

Edward Han Myo Oo Hotel3
A detail from Edward Han Myo Oo’s Hotel To Be Alone shows the curved cement form that is the foundational building block of the design. These shapes are rendered in gray tones and rough surfaces; like a monk’s habit, they provide minimal distraction from self-reflection and meditation. Courtesy Edward Han Myo Oo

Visit metropolismag.com/future100 to see more groundbreaking student work.


Cal Poly Pomona

Undergraduate Architecture

NOMINATOR: Wendy Gilmartin, Lecturer

Chu’s writers’ retreat in the Mojave Desert is a secular interpretation of sacred space.


Kansas State University

Graduate Interior Architecture and Industrial Design

NOMINATOR: Michelle Wempe, Professor of Practice

Cudney’s Sacredness Among Scarcity honors those lost in the 2017 Las Vegas massacre.


Harvard University

Graduate Architecture

NOMINATORS: Lyndon Neri & Rossana Hu, Partners, Neri&Hu, John C. Portman Design Critic in Architecture

Myo Oo’s A Hotel To Be Alone flips the script on what we expect from a hotel.


Kent State University

Undergraduate Interior Design

NOMINATOR: Tina Patel, Assistant Professor

In her Shinto shrine for Vancouver’s Japanese population, Koenig creates natural serenity.


Texas Tech University

Undergraduate Interior Design

NOMINATOR: Erin Hamilton, Assistant Professor

Okoronkwo’s addition to Turning Point Community Church makes room for dining and recreation areas.


Kent State University

Undergraduate Interior Design

NOMINATOR: Tina Patel, Assistant Professor

Schwartz’s The Roots Ecumenical Chapel is a minimalist waterfront chapel in Hawaii.


Fashion Institute of Technology

Undergraduate Interior Design

NOMINATOR: Joseph Goldstein, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Interior Design

Sotomayor’s Zoroastrian fire temple creates a contemporary space for an ancient religion.


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