Emerging Architecture Awards


Office dA

Spiritual centre

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

December 2004
The Inter-Faith Spiritual Center of Northeastern University in Boston is converted out of a large space in the Ell building on Huntington Avenue. The problem faced by the architects was to make the centre appropriate for all faiths while ensuring that the place had numinous qualities that were not biased towards any individual belief.
In the large rectangular volume, two antechambers flank the main hall. The eastern one acts as a meeting room and a small library, while the western room has facilities for foot washing. In both, there are extensive storage spaces for religious objects (in the western one for shoes also). Both rooms are deemed to be secular, so there is no danger of sacrilege.
In the main hall, atmosphere can be rapidly and radically altered according to the beliefs of the people using it. For instance, rows of chairs can turn it into a nave-like space; carpets on an otherwise empty floor transform it into a prayer hall.
Such difference of ritual may have suggested an empty box, but the architects have been at pains to make the space memorable and conducive to worship and prayer. Soft illumination comes mainly from walls made of translucent glass panels that step inwards as they go upwards at an angle of three degrees. The move intensifies the whole volume without making it claustrophobic, and variable lighting settings allow the space to change character according to the events it houses. Three shallow inverted domes float to form the ceiling. They are made of ply and aluminium on shaped plywood bearers, like gigantic slightly convex iris diaphragms hovering overhead and making the atmosphere below more powerful, without ever seeming to struggle for attention. The jury was impressed by the calm assurance of this interior project, though some members were worried about its general air of heavy brownness.

Office dA, Nader Tehrani & Monica Ponce de Leon
Project team
Monica Ponce de Leon, Nader Tehrani, Richard Lee, Erik Egbertson, Ben Karty, Jill Porter, Jeffrey Asanza, Yeong La, Patricia Chen, Thamarit Suchart, David Kunzig, Dana Manoliu, Salvatore Rafone, Phillip Smith, Rusty Walker, Timothy Clark
Architect of Record