Ethos of Design for Houses of Worship

Communities of faith are charged with no easy task: to develop an  architecture and design that meets the satisfaction of leadership, the congregation, architects, and artisans; but first and foremost, for the glorification of God's holy name.

The Archbishop and people of Salzburg commissioned the great Mozart Masses of the late 18th century. But those extraordinary musical expressions reflected Mozart’s personal desire to connect with and bring glory to God.

Similarly any ecclesiastical building project is an intimate encounter with the divine through form, light, space, and substance. Any art expression, void of this genuine encounter, is an impostor.

The tension and beauty of theophany – where the shame and brokenness of humanity’s sin meets the hope and expectation of redemption – must be communicated to the architect. With the architect as mediator, this tension is transformed and articulated.

The architect chosen for such a project must question, criticize, and search, as part of a group of artisans, builders, and users, to achieve the awesome beauty required of religious art. But every individual involved in the project must be an active participant not only during the design programming, but also throughout the entire design itself.

Much of what is presented by other architects and designers might likely be in the form of end-product examples. These examples will probably express a very serious effort towards maintaining high design and technical standards. All very important ingredients. These high standards are also important to us. The difference with Arthur John Sikula Associates, (A.J.S.A.), however, lies in our collaborative approach that puts a unique premium on straightforward, honest communication.

Here’s what we mean.

We work tirelessly to establish clear, sharp lines of communication with our clients. Straight talk across the table goes a long way. Sometimes we use computer-generated graphics and models. We also diagram concepts and yes, even controversies. We use cards, large sheets of packaging paper, projection screens, anything to make sure that we understand each other. This practice encourages feedback and the ever-critical aspect of our work, collaboration.

We also conduct community-wide conferences or town meetings to identify differences of opinion and facilitate a meeting of minds. It’s not unusual to hear the expression “Let’s put everything out on the table” at these meetings. Abrupt? Yes, but effective. Dangerous? Not at all.

Good communication is being honest and direct with people. Talk straight and people will respond accordingly. Work will move faster. Time will be saved. So will money. And deeper relationships will be cultivated. Defer or ignore this process, and rumors, fears, and prejudices will fester.

Most of all, when successful communication takes place in a straightforward manner, there is a far better chance to produce an environment that is truly an expression of your community’s response and interaction with God – the act of worship, itself.