SPIRITUAL AND NUMINOUS MOMENTS IN ARCHITECTURE
The Move from ostentatious fads to architecture that touches our soul
By: Veronica Schreibeis Smith
Architecture is a powerful influence on our wellbeing, as it simultaneously impacts all of our senses and each of the Dimensions of Wellness while making up 90% of our surroundings over the course of our lifetime. In recent years, cross-disciplinary studies have proliferated the industry with the science behind how the built environment impacts our wellbeing: hormone production, inflammation, gut and respiratory health, stress level, immunity to diseases and viruses, cognitive performance, social interactions and relationships, emotional wellbeing, and soon. And now, after last year’s great reset imbued awareness of our frenetic pace and extraordinarily consumptive habits, we are seeing architecture elevate its game in all areas, especially the previously glossed over aspect of nurturing our spiritual wellbeing.
The power of this trend is its departure from a look-at-me, visually ostentatious fad or architectural style to a must-be-experienced effect that is subtle, yet potent, in its ability to touch our soul and contribute to transcendental experiences.
As the values of humankind shift,1 a new way to practice spirituality emerges, and architecture’s role becomes evident not only in faith-based architecture but everyday architecture. We are not separate from our buildings; our buildings influence us, nudge our behavior and practices, impact our mood, and inhibit or enhance our capacity to tap into our own spirituality.
“It is timely that we deal with the Spiritual dimension in order to design our way into a sustainable…no, viable…future human presence on the planet,” says Canadian architect Roberto Chiotti.
Architecture’s response has accelerated over the past two decades, from post-war modernism through the green movement of the late 1990s to the current health movement beckoning Wellness Architecture, a holistic design approach rooted in authenticity, lasting quality, and life-enhancing rituals, built in regenerative harmony with Mother Nature.
Of course, an inherent part of achieving Wellness Architecture is the integration of numinous moments—defined as a transcendental experience where one is in contact with the vital, the fascinating, and the mysterious2—in our everyday environments. Most of us have experienced a numinous moment where our thoughts were paused, and awe engulfed us. For a brief time, feelings of bliss, beauty, tranquility, love or gratitude consumed us. Today’s “always on” culture needs such moments to be embedded into secular and sacred architecture alike in order to reset outmoded, deleterious habits (addiction to devices, consumerism, etc.) with meditation, mindfulness, breath work, gratitude and other key wellness practices.
Fueling The Trend
As we collectively move up Maslow’s pyramid, McMansions are dying as those moving into self-actualization look for architecture to deliver more.
The sophistication of an era’s architecture corresponds to where the population is on Maslow’s Pyramid. A cave was great shelter when every day was a struggle to sustain life. Conversely, much of the real estate product released onto the market in recent decades maximizes square footage and bedroom count but removes quality to achieve the most inexpensive cost per square foot possible while still including as many luxury features as possible. This has been a response to the Esteem tier of Maslow’s Pyramid. Now, we are looking for architecture to respond to the Self-Actualization tier.
“We are at the apex of ego, consumption and excess. This is a departure from our natural selves,” explains Dr. Jonathan Salk. At every apex, there is a transition. Each of us is ultimately responsible for creating our own sacred life. Our actions, what we eat, and what we choose to surround ourselves with matters. We create everyday magic for ourselves and our loved ones.
Dr. Phillip Tabb, architect and professor emeritus of Texas A&M University, points out that the average homeowner uses someone else’s ideas of what a house “should” be like, rather than going through their own introspective and self- reflective process. But this is changing. The idea that form follows function is expanding beyond the utilitarian tasks associated with daily life, like parking the car inside (garage) or washing the dishes (ergonomic dimensions and articulating spray head on a faucet). Art and beauty are not frivolous but rather serve the function of elevating our mood and inciting wonder, necessary emotions and intellectual occurrences for wellbeing. The same is true for integrating numinous moments in architecture and urban design for spiritual wellbeing.
Throughout time, humans have focused—and lost focus—on sacredness in architecture, and now we see a resurgence.
Spirituality is shifting from the ubiquitous church- going on Sundays to something both the devout and atheist aspire to integrate daily in their pursuit of self-actualization. Universal traits of spirituality include things like connecting to the divine, knowing your purpose, achieving your highest potential, using your talents for the betterment of others, and living in the present moment. Our desire to more deeply integrate mind, body and soul is rapidly increasing, as is evident with the explosion of meditation and mindfulness tools in the marketplace, as well as watching wellness sectors of the economy out-pace other sectors.3
Spiritual wellbeing is an inextricable part of a well life, and rightfully deserves design consideration and designated spaces in our homes, workplaces and urban landscapes.
This is an excerpt from the “2021: The Year of the Travel Reset” trend in the 2021 Global Wellness Trends Report.
1 Salk, Jonas and Salk, Jonathan. A New Reality: Human Evolution for a Sustainable Future. City Point Press, Stratford, CT. 2018
2 Phillip James Tabb, Elemental Architecture: The Temperaments of Sustainability, (London, UK: Routledge, 2019).
3 Global Wellness Economy Diagram, Global Wellness Summit, https://globalwellnessinstitute. org/press-room/statistics-and-facts/.