“REFLECTION” - A SECULAR GATHERING PLACE

A letter I wrote appeared in the Op’ED section of the NY Times website and in print on July 10, 2013, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: A Place to Reflect.  The letter was in response to the article “To Fight Religious Monuments, Atheists Carve Their Own” (news article, July 5):  The following is a more detailed description below along with images (1-4) of a fantasy sketch design done two years ago.

“Reflection” is a fantasy design that I created with no client and no commission based upon what I considered was a need for a secular gathering place for people of all races, genders, political and spiritual beliefs. It is a place for quiet reflection where anyone can offer their ideas and thoughts to a community of people in a democratic and non-hierarchical forum.  The overall design derives inspiration from the Pantheon in Rome, Leonardo DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man as a circular and five sided secular diagram (in left plan diagram on page 2 below), the Alhambra Palace in Cordoba, Spain , the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth Texas designed by Louis Kahn as well as other inspiring buildings of this nature throughout history.  Its intended setting includes beautiful gardens with colors, textures, smells,  and sounds such as birds chirping, water falling & rippling and trees rustling. The reflective, transformative and life giving nature of water acts as an integral part of the design and inspiration for this building concept.

One approaches the building along ramps and paths that lead from the parking level into the garden and then the building.  As one enters through these concentric rings of gardens, one becomes less distracted by the outside world and more open and reflective of higher realm ideas that demonstrate a more spiritual yet non-religious nature.  

Parking occurs on a lower concentric level such that the clutter of cars surrounding the complex does not distract from the building and gardens.  Ramps from the parking area lead up to a meandering path that passes through the outer garden.  Glass block walls occur at each of the entry portals to the inner gardens. These glass block walls have water running down their facades providing a filtered view of the building beyond. The walls also redirect a person’s path to the left or right as they choose their way of entering the building.

Some of the original concepts for such a place were inspired by my own experiences attending a Quaker school in Philadelphia. The school required all of its students to attend “Friends Meeting” once a week.  During “Friends Meeting” students and faculty could get up and talk about anything they felt was important to either themselves or others.  It was an empowering and liberating experience for those who were brave enough to speak.  However, it was also a bit intimidating for those who were shy or unsure of themselves when it came topublic speaking. 

A possible solution to this problem could incorporate today’s smartphone technology. Smartphones couldserve as a means for those less sure of themselves to have the option of speaking anonymously. Through this means of communication, it is also possible for an individual toprerecord what they want to say, giving them time to consider and prepare their thoughts.  These phones could be set in a mode that blocks all outside distractions and only allows interactions with others within the complex.

This gathering place could also serve as a venue for concerts, art exhibits, lectures, or talks, community meetings, retreats and many other similar activities.