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ASCF 7: Nature and the Ordinary: Sacred Foundations of Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality

June 18-21, 2015

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup, or watching the rain, petting a dog or singing, just singing – could be doing as much for this universe as anyone. — Rumi

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General Information

The Forum for Architecture, Culture and Spirituality hosted its 2015 International Symposium embedded in the serene setting of the vast and inspiring landscape of New Mexico in the southwest of the United States. Its central theme was to explore how experiences of nature and of otherwise ordinary things in our everyday existence have been elevated to the realm of the spiritual and imbued with special meaning for individuals, societies, and cultures in the past, and to speculate on what designers can do to facilitate the connection between the quotidian and the sacred in the built environment of today.

The Seventh Annual Meeting of the Forum took place June 18-21 2015 at Ghost Ranch, an education and retreat center 14 miles north of the village of Abiquiu, New Mexico, and about two hours by car north of the city of Albuquerque, the closest major airport. Ghost Ranch is surrounded by national forests, the mesas and pueblos of Native American tribes, and the natural beauty that acted as the inspiration for the artist Georgia O’Keefe (former owner of Ghost Ranch where she spent most of her career as a painter). It offered the ideal setting to contemplate the theme of the symposium in an environment of great natural, cultural, and spiritual power.

As in the past, the symposium was structured around several subtopics focusing on various aspects of the general theme, and the number of attendees was kept small on purpose to secure an atmosphere conducive to personal connections and in-depth dialogue. Optional meditation was offered each morning and there was some free time for connecting to oneself, other people and the surroundings. A keynote address by Rina Swentzell, renown artist, author, and scholar on Puebloan culture, values and philosophy, contributed to our collective understanding of the meaning and symbolism of the physical environment of Native American populations of the region. The other two keynotes were Argentinean architect Eliana Bormida and Notre Dame Emeritus professor Norman Crowe, both with a remarkable grasp of the relationship between nature, culture spirituality, and architecture.

The Forum for Architecture, Culture and Spirituality is an international scholarly group established in 2007 to advance the development and dissemination of architectural and interdisciplinary scholarship, research, practice, and education on the significance, experience, and meaning of the built environment.


Nature and the Ordinary: Sacred Foundations of Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality

Perhaps too much of our renewed contemporary interest in the nature, purpose, and value of spirituality in human affairs tends to approach it as something that we experience in a realm beyond ordinary existence: as extra-ordinary places, activities, and events, often seen as an escape from the relentless grind of profane life and as a refuge for renewal. We want to compensate for what is missing in our spiritually vacuous quotidian experience.

Generally more by default than by design, this notion of spirituality, particularly if pursued primarily as an individual quest, runs the risk of elitism. The spiritual becomes an exercise in self-indulgence when it is relevant and accessible primarily to those who have managed to secure the more mundane aspects of their lives and thus have gained the freedom to contemplate what it means to seek fulfillment in the higher realms of enlightened consciousness. It is a modern habit to separate realms of knowledge so that they may yield to more precise analysis. But in the end the human condition is an integrated whole. Nature was our first teacher and from it arose our most basic spiritual experiences and beliefs. Animals, features of the natural landscape, sun, the stars, weather and the seasons ultimately provided the basis for the creation of works of art that would convey the spirituality experienced in nature into a focused presence. In this context, it is worth remembering John Dewey’s reflections on the cultural function and significance of aesthetics in his seminal 1934 book Art as Experience. He noted that if we are to recover a more integrated sense of art and aesthetics we must recover our sensitivity to the innately spiritual in human nature that is found, ultimately, in the ordinary or everyday. He observes:

“A primary task is … to restore the continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience. Mountain peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just rest upon the earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest operations.”

“For many persons an aura of mingled awe and unreality encompasses the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘ideal’ while ‘matter’ has become by contrast a term of depreciation, something to be explained away or apologized for. The forces at work are those that have removed religion as well as fine art from the scope of the common or community life.”

If we substitute “spiritual” or “spirituality” for “art” Dewey’s argument still applies to today’s society because—in contradistinction to traditional cultures where everyday community life is still infused with spiritual meanings—an intimate connection between spirituality and the larger cultural context from where it arose hardly exists today.

The central theme of ACS 7 considered the innate qualities of spiritual experience evoked by otherwise ordinary things, nature and the everyday, but now elevated to the realm of the spiritual, in the sense of being imbued with special meaning for individuals, societies, and cultures.


The American Southwest is a unique place replete of history, culture, and natural beauty. It is not an exaggeration to say that it stands out as the most unique and appropriate location to go to listen, find, and realize the profound links between land, humanity and spirituality. In fact, we can go as far as to say that our Southwest is the navel of our continent, where the ancient faiths, traditions, and rituals have remained alive for millennia to this day. In fact, this is the only part of North America where there are settlements that have been continuously occupied for over a thousand years. It was therefore appropriate for ACS 7 with its focus on nature, culture and the ordinary to go to such center of insight, inspiration, and beauty. Its remoteness and rawness created the perfect environment to pause and ponder about ACS issues in perhaps new ways.

Thus, we decided to conduct our symposium activities at Ghost Ranch, a place 12 miles north of Abiquiu — a town literally located in the middle of northern New Mexico. Symposium attendees will be encouraged to fly to Albuquerque (cheaper airfare than flying into Santa Fe) and rent a car. We will do our best to coordinate car-pooling among attendees. The drive from ABQ (Albuquerque airport) to Ghost Ranch took between 2-2.5 hours depending on traffic and time of the day. While this may be seen as a hardship, we considered it an advantage as it advanced our goal of being at the center of the nature and desert. We saw this journey as a pilgrimage to a remote, silent, and beautiful place — the heart of our continent.

Ghost Ranch offered rustic, comfortable housing accommodations reflective of its origin as a working ranch, and a variety of outdoor spaces and other facilities for meetings, including a library. There were ample opportunities to explore the natural surroundings on high desert hiking trails (elevation 6,500 feet). All units provided magnificent vistas of colorful sandstone cliffs, cottonwoods, and distant mountains, and expansive skies with dazzling panoramas of the planets and stars at night.

While most of our activities took place at Ghost Ranch we had half-day of our symposium spent at Dar Al Islam Mosque, about a 20 minute drive from where we stayed. During the second half of that day, we visited to Georgia O’Keefe‘s Home and Studio (which is in Abiquiu) as well as a nearby Pueblo settlement.


Cost for a double-occupancy room including three daily meals (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) was $143 per night (per person). There was a $50 per night additional cost for single-occupancy accommodations. A one time $3 conservation fee was charged to each individual

As with our previous ACS symposia, all paper sessions were open and free to the general public, space allowing. However, in order to attend the keynote lectures and participate in the receptions, tour, and other symposium activities, interested parties needed to pay a $100 Symposium fee.

Program and Participants

To download a copy of this year’s Symposium Program and Participants, click here.

Papers and Works

To view this year’s papers and works, please click here.

Collected Abstracts of the Seventh ACS Symposium (June 18-21, 2015)

Edited by Julio Bermudez, Norman Crowe and Paul Tesar (Symposium Chairs)

Note: all submissions to the symposium underwent peer review by at least 3 readers. Archived 5/25/2015.

General Topic: Nature and the Ordinary: Sacred Foundations of Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality

1. The Spirituality of Rooted Culture
Nader Ardalan Mud and Mirror
Linda Berry ‘O ka Wai ka ‘Ipuka I ka ‘Uhane: Water as Doorway to Spirit
Hyejung Chang Community as Virtue: Returning to our Native Spirit
2. The Spirituality of Landscape Viewed Through the Lens of Art
Rebecca Krinke The Lightning Field: Experiences in a Ritualized Landscape – Investigating a Contemporary Landscape of Contemplation
Dennis Winters Georgia O’Keefe and Spirituality of the Sexually Charged Landscape
Katherine Bambrick Ambroziak Environments of the Found Object: Revealing Value through a Process of Seeking and Making
3. Spirituality in Architectural Experience
Anat Geva Nature as the Spiritual Foundation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sacred Architecture: Earth, Sky, Light, and Water
Lindy Weston Gothic Architecture and the Liturgy of Construction
Karla Britton The River and The Point: Case Studies in Secular Spirituality
4. Body, Time, and Movement in Relation to Spirituality
Brandon Ro Sacred Time as One Eternal Round: Understanding the Chiastic Pattern of Temple, Cosmos, History
Jody Rosenblatt Heidegger’s Path
Galen Cranz The Body As a Site of Spiritual Practice: Can Architecture Help?
5. Sources of Place and Spirituality
Tom Bender Life-Force Energy: The Sacred Root of Place, Architecture, and Community
Elizabeth Devereaux Spiritual and Artistic Inspiration of Nature
Chelsea Rushton Motherland: Making Space for the Sacred, Creating Sacred Space
6. The Aural in Sacred Space
Mark Baechler & Tammy Gaber The Voice of Abraham’s House
Trent Smith Enhancing Contemporary Acapella and Sacred Harp Worship: Variations on Spatial Arrangement and Hierarchy
7. Quotidian Environments and the Sacred
Michael Crosbie & Suzanne Bott Discovering The Sacred Within the Quotidian: The Role Of ‘Spirit Of Place’ in Creating Sacred Environments
Christopher Domin Judith Chafee: Art and Daily Life
Jill E. Bambury The Sacred in the Street; Care Giving and Community Building as Everyday Spiritual Practice
8. Environment and Spirituality as Reflected in the Written Word
Ben Jacks Sacred and Real: Instrumental and Transcendent Writing About Architecture and the Built Environment
Thomas Barrie Modernism and the Domestic: Theoretical and Ideological Explorations and Expressions
Clive Knights The Crisis of Expectations: Recovering the Figurative in Architecture
Keynote Lectures
Norman Crowe Science, Spirituality and Nature: A View from New Mexico
Rina Swentzell Being in Place: Architecture and Spirituality in the Pueblo World
Eliana Bormida & Eduardo Vega Connecting Man, Culture And Nature: Wine Landscape And Architecture In Mendoza, Argentina


The ACS 7 participants posing together (a few of them missed the shot, including Karla Britton and Tom Barrie).

Organizing Committee

Julio Bermudez, PhD (co-chair)
Associate Professor, The Catholic University of America

Norman Crowe (co-chair)
Emeritus Professor, University of Notre Dame
Lecturer, University of New Mexico

Paul Tesar, PhD (co-chair)
Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State Universit