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The Critical Conversations Project: Spiritual Approaches to the Built Environment

The Critical Conversations Project was a series of thematic roundtable discussions conducted in 2021-22 by the Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality Forum in partnership with the Center of Theological Inquiry. The goal was to broaden considerations of leading-edge issues of the built environment through incorporating spiritual perspectives. We recognize that we live in a pivotal time with promises and perils of rapid change – and that our most vexing problems are directly related to the built environment. We accept that that the design professions have the ability – and responsibility – to seek, design, and implement solutions.

The Critical Conversations Project convened a multidisciplinary group of experts from architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, public interest design, material culture, theology, religious studies, psychology, history, and environmental health in two preliminary webinars, and three sessions conducted at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, NJ as a continuation of their Religion and the Built Environment theme year. Participants were tasked to address how the cultural, ethical, environmental, or transcendent aspects of the built environment may address contemporary challenges of spatial and environmental injustices, economic discrimination, climate change, globalization, urbanization, the loss place and meaning, and other imperatives of built environments.

The results were:

One feature film of the Princeton Sessions
Three short firms of the Princeton Sessions
Two webinars

The Critical Conversations Project Films

The films are an urgent call for the design professions to seek, design, and implement holistic solutions to our most pressing problems.

There’s an increasing demand in the world with all of its dysfunctional and inequitable systems for design thinking to think about possible futures that are different from the one that we have in front of us.

Thomas Fisher, Professor and Director of the Minnesota Design Center, University of Minnesota.

We need to act well and we need to act quickly to really be able to make a difference in the kind of planet that we’re on.

Brigitte Shim, Founding partner of Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, Toronto, Canada.

I think it’s about creating habitats that facilitate humanity in transcending itself. A disconnect from matter, maybe even a disconnect from the measured world. Identify and maybe in the incompleteness of oneself, a place that completes ourselves.

Trey Trahan, Founder and CEO, Trahan Architects, New Orleans and New York.

We need to reclaim our place as the poets of culture.

Suchi Reddy, Principal, Reddymade Architecture and Design, New York City

The session themes were:

Justice and Participation, addressed spatial, economic, environmental, and professional injustices

Environmental Adaptation and Ecotechnology, climate change, globalization, and urbanization

Transcendent Human Habitats, the loss of place, cultural identity and meaning.

Panelists: Nader Ardalan, President, Ardalan Associates, Rachel Armstrong, Professor, Department of Architecture: Research, KU Leuven, Belgium, Thomas Beaudoin, Ph.D.Professor of Religion, Fordham University, Bryan Bell, Professor of Architecture, North Carolina State University, Director of Design Corps, Karla Britton, Ph.D., Professor of Art History, Dine College, Roberto Chiotti FRAIC, Founding Partner, Larkin Architect Ltd, Toronto, Canada, Thomas Fisher DPACSA Asso. AIA, Professor and Director of the Minnesota Design Center, University of Minnesota, Tammy Gaber Associate Professor and Director of Architecture, Laurentian University, Rumiko Handa Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean of Architecture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Margaret Jankowsky ASLA, Director of Urban Design, Trahan Architects, New York, Kevin Ladd, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology of Religion Lab, Department of Psychology, Indiana University South Bend, Suchi Reddy AIA, Principal, Reddymade Architecture and Design, New York City, Brigitte Shim FRAIC, OC, RCA, Hon. FAIA, OAA, Founding partner of Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, Toronto, Canada, Linda Powers Tomasso PhD. MSFS ALM, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard School of Public Health, Trey Trahan III FAIA, Founder and CEO, Trahan Architects, New Orleans and New York, Caitlin Watson AIAArchitect, New York CityProject Directors: Thomas Barrie, FAIA DPACSAProfessor of Architecture, NC State UniversityJulio Bermudez, Ph.D. DPACSA, Professor and Director of the Cultural Studies and Sacred Space Graduate Concentration, School of Architecture and Planning, The Catholic University of America. Project Support: William Storrar, Ph.D., Director, Center of Theological Inquiry, Film Director: Thomas Barrie FAIA DPACSA, Videography: Telequest, Princeton, NJ Dan Preston and Maggie Rose, Producers

There are 20 minute films for each topic, and a one hour feature film of all three.

Watch the trailer:
Download information here.

If you are interested in screening the films please contact Thomas Barrie tmbarrie@ncsu.edu 

Critical Conversations Project Webinars

Two live webinars were conducted in 2021. The topics were:

Cultural Consciousness and Transcendent Human Environments, which addressed:

  • how built environments may sustain and regenerate diverse cultural heritages as well as advance identity, sense of belonging, and human development
  • how holistic approaches and designs can foster human well-being and spiritual growth and help evoke transcendent experiences.

Moderator: Julio Bermudez, Ph.D., DPACSA, Panelists: Sigurd Bergmann, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor, Religious Studies, Trondheim, Uppsala, Lund, Munich, S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate, Ph.D., Associate Professor by Special Appointment, Hamilton College, Nader Ardalan, President, Ardalan Associates, Kevin Ladd, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology of Religion Lab, Department of Psychology, Indiana University South Bend, Alberto Perez Gomez, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor, School of Architecture, McGill University, Suchi Reddy, AIA, Principal: Reddymade, NYC

Watch ACSF Critical Conversations Project Webinar 1:

Justice & Participation and Environmental Adaptation and Ecotechnology, which addressed:

  • How may built environments support equity and inclusion and encourage participatory and democratic decision-making processes?
  • How may sustainable built and natural ecosystems be in spiritual and material harmony with nature, the cosmos, and the resources of the earth?

Moderator: Thomas Barrie, FAIA DPACSA, PanelistsThomas Beaudoin, Ph.D., Professor of Religion, Fordham University, Bryan Bell, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, North Carolina State University, Director of Design Corps, Karla Britton, Ph.D., Professor of Art History, Dine College, Roberto Chiotti, FRAIC, Founding Partner, Larkin Architect Limited, Thomas Fisher, DPACSA, Professor and Director of the Minnesota Design Center, University of Minnesota.

Watch ACSF Critical Conversations Project Webinar 2:

Project Directors

Thomas Barrie, FAIA DPACSA, Professor of Architecture, NC State University

Julio Bermudez, Ph.D. DPACSA, Professor and Director of the Cultural Studies and Sacred Space Graduate Concentration, School of Architecture and Planning, The Catholic University of America

Project Collaborator

William Storrar, Ph.D.Director, Center of Theological Inquiry

Film Director

Thomas Barrie, FAIA DPACSA, Professor of Architecture, NC State University

Videography

Telequest, Princeton, NJ, Dan Preston and Maggie Rose, Producers

The Architecture, Culture and Spirituality Forum is grateful for the generous support of this project by The Center of Theological Inquiry, and for all the panelists who participated.

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