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ACSF 5: Urbanism, Spirituality & Well Being

June 6–9, 2013

If we instinctively seek a paradisiacal and special place on earth, it is because we know in our inmost hearts that the earth was given to us in order that we might find meaning, order, truth and salvation in it. — Thomas Merton

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General Information

The International Symposium on Urbanism, Spirituality & Well Being convened experts in the fields of architecture, landscape design, urbanism, religious studies, public health and other related disciplines to address leading-edge global culture and urbanism issues from contemplative, spiritual, philosophical, design and ethical perspectives. The 2 1/2 day program of scholarly presentations and panel discussions was sponsored by the Harvard University Divinity School, the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, The Harvard University Center for the Environment, North Carolina State University School of Design, and the Forum for Architecture, Culture and Spirituality. The symposium topics included scholarship on the history of cities and architecture planned according to spiritual motivations or principles; the contemporary built urban environment and the plethora of forces that shape it; and the prospects of future urban life that nurtures meaningful, sustainable, and spiritually inspiring built environments and architecture.

How we draw from past and present contexts to cultivate new urban and architectural visions is an imperative that theologians, public health experts, architects and urban designers are well placed to address through philosophical, theoretical and practical considerations and contemplation. This international symposium focused on the history and potential of the city to spiritually uplift the human spirit, contextualize and symbolize our shared “human condition,” accommodate communal activities and rituals that give meaning to our lives, and provide connections to knowledge and understanding of the transcendent dimension of existence in architecture and the urban setting.

The USW Symposium took place June 6 – 9, 2013 at Glastonbury Abbey, Hingham, Massachusetts & Harvard University Divinity School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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

Location, Registation & Cost

The USW Symposium took place at two different but close locations: the Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, MA (Thursday PM, Friday, and Sunday AM) and the Harvard Dvinity School in Cambridge, MA (Saturday all day). See Format and Themes for specifics.

Attendance of the symposium was open to all.

Accommodations for day attendees were available at the Saint Joseph Retreat Center in Cohasset, MA. at a rate of $50/night (including breakfast). There were also other accommodations near Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, MA.


The Urbanism, Spirituality and Wellbeing Symposium began on Thursday afternoon June 6th with a welcome, paper sessions and an evening keynote address, followed on Friday by peer-reviewed paper sessions and a keynote address. Thursday and Friday programs were conducted at the Glastonbury Abbey. On Saturday, the symposium was conducted at the Harvard Divinity School and included invited speakers and panel discussions by leading experts in the field. Sunday morning unfolded at Glastonbury Abbey and include the ACS business meeting and a concluding session. The meeting came to a close at noon that Sunday. As in the past, we shared our meals, had time for early meditation and quiet evening retreat (if desired), and encouraged casual conversations among participants.

Click this link for the Symposium Program

NOTE: The USW Symposium started with two lectures preparing the ground for the three-day long meeting in June. These two lectures were:

Reflections on the Past (delivered on April 11 at Harvard University Science Center —Lecture Hall E) . The focus of this first lecture on the history of cities planned according to spiritual motivations or principles. Cities in which ecological sustainability and spiritual well-being have enjoyed historical or ongoing reciprocity are of greatest interest. Click here to know more.

Contemporary Trends (May 2 at Harvard University Fong Auditorium —Boylston Hall) . The focus of this first lecture on the contribution of spiritual motivations in planning contemporary cities and, specifically, the use of design to support spiritual engagement and environmental health in the public realm. Click here to know more.

For further information about these two events, follow this link.


To download a copy of this year’s Symposium participants, click here.

Lectures (Video)

June 6, 2013 | Glastonbury Abbey, Massachusetts

Open Topic: Research, practice or scholarship that addresses the issues related to architecture, urbanism, spirituality and well-being from a broad range of perspectives

Welcome and Introductory Remarks to the Symposium

Nader Ardalan, Harvard University

Eruv: A Transformation of an Urban Public Space to a Private Place for Spiritual Renewal

Jody Rosenblatt Naderi, Ball State University and Anat Geva, Texas A&M University

Transcending Boundaries: Geometry in Service of the Sacred

Patrick J. Quinn, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

After Burnham: Our Lady’s Plan of Chicago

Philip Bess, The University of Notre Dame

Designing Ritual Space | Sustaining Community: The Search for a Common Language of Ritual Space in a Time of Uncertainty

William Tripp and Toni Lettiere, William Tripp Architect, Portland, Oregon

Reflections on the Value of Continuity (In Urban Experience)

Paul Tesar, North Carolina State University and Hyejung Chang, University of New Mexico

The Monastery, The City, and the Human Future

Harvey Cox, Harvard Divinity School

In Search of Spirituality in Urban Decay

Joongsub Kim, Lawrence Technological University

June Program – Day 2 – Morning Session

June 7, 2013 | Glastonbury Abbey, Massachusetts

Urbanism of the Past: Scholarship on the history of architecture and the built environment planned according to spiritual motivations or principles.

June Program – Day 2 – Afternoon Session

June 7, 2013 | Glastonbury Abbey, Massachusetts

Present Urbanism: Research, practice, and scholarship on contemporary thinking concerning the relationship of spiritual motivations and the built environment, including architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, market capitalism, multiculturalism, sustainability, and social equity.

June Program – Day 3

June 8, 2013 | Harvard Divinity School, Boston, Massachusetts

Future Prospects: Scholarship and plenary discussions regarding future prospects for cities – the creation of meaningful, sustainable and spiritual environments that provide a quality of life and well-being for its inhabitants, and are in harmony with their natural contexts.


The ACS5 participants posing together at Harvard Divinity School.

Organizing Committee

Nader Ardalan — Senior Editor, GSU
Harvard Graduate School of Design

Tom Barrie — Professor of Architeture
College of Design. North Carolina State University

Harvey Cox — Hollis Research Professor of Divinity
Harvard Divinity School

Ahmed Ragab — Watson AssistantProfessor of Science and Religion
Harvard Divinity School

John D. Spengler — Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation Habitation
Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment