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The Sacred Beauty of Everyday Architecture

Where is the intersection of architecture and faith? 

Is it in lofty barrel vaults or in stained glass depicting the saints? Is it in the transept, the steeple or the altar? Of course, the pairing of Architecture + Faith conjures up a sacred typology; one rooted in portraying scripture to those who could not read it for themselves. Throughout the ages, cathedrals, temples, synagogues, and mosques embodied a deliberate pictorial language to illuminate, educate and appeal to the senses conjuring an emotional response. Style, detail, and ornament were intimately attached to the particular culture and faith traditions of an era.  

With the Reformation and the proliferation of the printed bible, the language of sacred Architecture became more subtle and re-presented a humble, approachable, and restrained language. Without the compulsory pictures, houses of worship became increasingly centered on gathering to hear and participate in the spoken and sung word. Regardless of the nuances, complexity, or the current style of sacred Architecture, light prevails as a primary and timeless medium to stir the curious toward belief. 

Architecture holds the sublime capacity to pulse, encircle, lift, and inspire. In the composition of patterns, volumes, textures and frames the occupant is engaged in a participatory movement. Examples like Sagrada Familia, the Sistine Chapel, and Ronchamp are exceptional illustrations of the sacred typology that provokes a response, but are places of worship the only instances where an authentic faith might swell within the built environment? 

Everyday architecture, and the imagery surrounding it, are woven throughout scripture. We see references to the cornerstone, the foundation, the door, the lintel, the gate, the tower, the stable, and of course the house. Jesus conducted much of his ministry in people’s homes. His everyday, every moment ministry used a common agrarian and household language. His Gospel was not confined to the sabbath or the temple mount. It was on the road, at the well, at the table, at the bedside, in the breaking of bread and washing of feet, and even descending through a broken roof on a palette.  

And ultimately when Jesus left this earth, the veil in the tabernacle was torn from top to bottom and faith flooded beyond the temple courts into the everyday. God is not, and was never in fact, confined to things made of human hands, nor was He sequestered to sacred places. His gospel permeates and overflows, dwelling within and around those he has gifted with faith. In His humanity and with the Spirit, the sacred entered the everyday. 


Much has been written about the intersection of art and faith, and the subsequent creative disciplines of literature, poetry, music and songwriting, visual arts, and the traditions of functional pottery and fiber arts.  As an architect, I delight in these writings, and I can easily append the creative discipline of architecture.  However, I recognize that other creative people may not instinctively consider the critical role of the built environment as art or as an expression of faith. It is from this prompt to speak to fellow creators, and to find kinship in the gratitude we share for our artistic inklings, that I offer these thoughts on architecture and faith. 

I believe architecture is a living art, one in which we dwell and abide. It is an authentic and tangible touchpoint to who we are and the one who made us. It is a deep and beautiful truth that the one who builds the walls does so for another. It is a generative act of service. Both the creator and the user are affected, guided, held, and even changed as they engage and commune within the products of the builder’s craft.

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus was asked by the Pharisees which is the greatest commandment of the law. His answer points toward a deep calling to not only commune with God with all our capacity but also to give these talents and skills as gifts to others: 

"And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with  all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39 )

The work of an architect is the stewardship of place, people, and resources. Through a disciplined and iterative practice of listening, reclaiming, sketching, modeling, editing, collaborating, and finally re-presenting and binding, the architect creates a structure that frames and supports what is possible. 

In the words of Tim Keller, a faithful architect can “rearrange raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.” The architect participates in the divine act of creation, answering a deep calling while gifting the vessel to another.

The built environment apart has a spiritual life all its own. Architecture is a living art. In place-making an architect may try her best to anticipate and speak to a function or occupant, but the walls and emptiness exist in time and space apart from the architect. They wait for light, for gathering, for souls to abide. The doorframes may prompt, the steps may lift, the windows may frame, but the built environment finds beauty in both its intention and its possibility. 

Christians believe the imprint of our maker is in our hearts, and because we are each unique this imprint primes us for distinctive ways to abide and see. My pastor, Michael Flake, describes this mark as Christ’s blood on the doorframe of our lives. As we peer through these frames— whether it be at the pub, the workshop, the kitchen sink, or from our porch at the end of a day's labors—the built environment faithfully frames our every day and our every moment just so.

Where is the intersection of architecture and faith? It is in the arc of a garden gate and the boot shelf in a mudroom. It is in the window seat of a nursery, the bend of a stair, and in the morning light across a breakfast table. In the realm of this present garden, faith meets us at the door, in the threshold, in washing and cooking, place-making, and in our labor and rest. The places authentically crafted for these actions house our everyday lives. 

As we enter a place we become part of it, we are changed by it and in fact, participate in the making of and purpose of it. 


Nicole Perri is originally from the foothills and lake region of New Jersey and grew up in the woods and creeks exploring and creating worlds. After considering careers in Art and Music, Nicole felt called to architecture and attended Clemson University where she received a BS and a MA in Architecture.

Nicole currently focuses her practice on Residential Architecture and Community and Arts Projects in Davidson and the fabric of the Lake Norman region. She crafts designs to enrich the spirit and health, and strives to build identity, connection, memory and light into each unique proposal. Her writings and thoughts about Architecture + Faith can be found at Rooted and Flying.



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