This is the fourth of six consecutive articles as follows:
Introduction: “Body Language Overview”
Audio: “Can You Hear Me Now?”
Video: “Room With a View”
Lighting: “In the Beginning…”
Seating: “Please Be Seated”
Conclusion: “All Together Now…”
In the beginning God said “Let there be darkness – and there was, and the light perceived it not??? While it sounds absurd to us – we would never say that verbally – we have however, certainly said it in our architecture very loud and clear with so many natural lightless worship environments in the last 30 years.
The issue of lighting (or lack thereof) in worship seems as natural and as ancient as time itself. Even when auditory limitations with no written/spoken language were prevalent, we have always been a visual species responding physiologically to natural light stimuli. This article will consider both natural and artificial light and will discuss important conversations during the design process.
For thousands of years until the invention of electricity architects and builders throughout history intuitively used natural lighting in many ways. The primary natural light source of the sun is obvious to us today, but the moon however, is less understood and appreciated.
Just like the natural room acoustic and visual qualities, the Anasazi utilized the natural solar and lunar environment of their chosen site of Chaco Canyon in present day northwest New Mexico. As discussed in the previous article focusing on video (Room With a View), their entire world view and in fact their actual physical survival centered on their extensive knowledge and technical application of the cosmos as manifested by both the solar and lunar calendars. The solar calendar is obviously cyclical on an annual basis, but more sophisticated – and more critical – was the 19 year lunar calendar that allowed them to predict the rain/snow cycles with amazing accuracy.
This larger cosmological scale was replicated in the design and orientation of their worship environments in the form of “pueblo’s” which were religious ceremonial centers. These pueblo’s had at least one wall oriented to a solar or lunar event that was significant in the celebration of their religion.
Far more than a lifestyle, these participatory ceremonies were integral to the sustainability of their daily physical lives on the whole and to say it was a life or death situation would be entirely accurate.
As previously discussed they chose to build more numerous smaller pueblos and kivas within the pueblos because it allowed more mystery in their transcendence of a lunar/solar cosmos as manifested in their lunar and solar calendar. Their worship was in fact a type of theatre and their version of such theatre was inherently participatory as opposed to the more current passive performance role. Their worship was enhanced by “concurrent worship” in many smaller, more numerous and in fact, different kiva’s, utilizing the form, massing, orientation and materials of the architecture to direct/focus the sunlight and the moonlight like a large reflector.
Thus they intuitively sought to fashion their religious spaces in an architectural manner that carefully used the available light for specific purposes as they made no distinction between the sacred and the profane – all was sacred.
Blackout: As with the natural acoustic and visual environments previously studied, again the irony to this present reality is that compared to our forefathers throughout history we have the opportunity to “have our cake and eat it too” relative to both natural AND artificial lighting. While we have always been a multi-sensory (especially visual) people, we are now at a point in time where there exists the greatest possibility for almost unlimited creative natural design and technical solutions. The question is no longer just what can we do, but if we can do anything then what should we do?
As we have seen thus far in this series, the post-modern day comparison to the Anasazi is Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Indiana. With concerns of the loss of intimacy and connectedness in larger worship environments by the Senior Pastor Dave Rodriguez they decided to pursue several smaller worship environments on their 52 acre campus in lieu of a large, single “concert hall” church.
It would likely not even have occurred to the Anasazi to create a “blackout” (totally black) lighting condition because that would have meant they were dead, the natural environment was never totally black in the realm of living consciousness. The existing GraceMain space of 1,100 seats was built in 1996 at the height of the evangelical blackout craze. With its all black stage surround and the proscenium to the white auditorium worship room it is the quintessential lightless evangelical warehouse model of the “black hole in the white box”. This blackout mentality comes from the performance, consumerism model of worship and is worthy of its own article, but suffice to say that again, more than any other point in time it is possible to mix the natural and the manmade so that a more authentic gestalt can be fostered. Thanks to modern technology, this even includes the ability to achieve excellent viewing for video screens in spite of natural light.
To review from previous articles in this series, the results of that design concept under construction now include a new 1,500 seat “main” worship space (GraceMain), a new 600 seat “traditional” worship space (Sanctuary) and division of the current 1,100 seat worship space (with no natural daylight) into two separate 450 seat and 350 seat worship spaces. After being starved of natural light for over 10 years, the Grace congregation was ready for natural light. Both the new worship spaces (GraceMain and Sanctuary) achieve a balance of natural and artificial lighting through a variety of simple yet effective design features.
Even the daylight qualities can be influenced with the addition of color LED lighting in locations that mimic the source of natural light such as the base of the operable shutters in the new GraceMain space. In addition, the use of color LED under the handrail caps allow the concept of the theatrical lighting used to highlight the platform to be carried around the entire worship environment. Theatre lights are used in theatres i.e. performance spaces, so when they are used in a participatory setting (especially worship), it is essential to carry the light sources to the perimeter of the space. This helps to reinforce the participation and unity gestalt by allowing the entire space to be encompassed in the lighting effect not just the ones “up there” on the platform.
While we have been using the term “window” throughout this article to represent natural light there are many more possibilities such as clerestory windows, roof windows and skylights. Each have particular characteristics and when used in conjunction with the architecture can produce a variety of results. In the new GraceMain space the north and south “end walls” are precast concrete panels that are staggered at an angle and offset to one another with a gap for natural light. While this was done as much for acoustical purposes the natural lighting effect is quite dramatic and also includes theatrical lighting along its entire length to mimic the daylight conditions at night.
Conclusion: With respect to natural light many churches are now realizing that the baby was thrown out with the bathwater in the last 20 years by building windowless boxes. Circadian rhythms aside (as significant as they are) the human spirit was designed to interact and respond to various natural lighting conditions. It is imperative in the design process to discuss the significance of natural light in the worship environment. At Grace for instance the fact that they have two Saturday evening services and two Sunday morning services meant that the full 24 hour period would need to be considered in the design of the natural light.
While there are many more bad examples of natural lighting in worship spaces (a large window behind the platform being one of the most blatant and the most common of these) there are many successful historical examples to visit and experience to light a path to dynamic worship environments. What else can we learn from this parallel story of the Grace tribe of Indy and the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon connecting God and people in human relationships? In the next article we will rest on the dimension of seating and body language.