Multi-faith spaces: proposals for a neutral and operational design

Francisco Díez de Velasco ( Instituto Universitario de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales / Institute for Political and Social Sciences. University of La Laguna. Canary Islands, Spain

Presented at: Workshop 5 of RECODE (Responding to ComplexDiversity in Europe and Canada): "Multireligious Society. Accomodating New Religious Diversities in Post-Secular Settings", 11-12 April, 2013, Madrid, Centre for Human and Social Sciences (Spanish National Research Council, CSIC).

I would like to thank the Fundación Pluralismo y Convivencia (Madrid) for the permission granted to use the results of the research project “Guía técnica para la gestión de espacios multiconfesionales” in this presentation.


1. The rise of multi-faith spaces

Introduction on the topic and review of the bibliography and projects of research, conferences and other resources (for more details see the text).

An example in Spain (result of a research project financed by Fundación Pluralismo y Convivencia /Foundation Pluralism and Coexistence, a Public Foundation of the Spanish Ministry of Justice, and published by OBPRE - Observatory of the Religious Pluralism in Spain)

An example:
Guía técnica para la implementación y gestión de espacios multiconfesionales,
Madrid, Observatorio del Pluralismo Religioso en España, 2011 (ISBN 978-84615-2847-9)

WHAT & WHERE?= places of worship or quiet reflection (rooms of silence) in specific settings
 -transport stations
 -chapels of rest
 -military quarters
 -homes for the elderly
 -centres of education and recreation
 -shopping malls
 -work centres....

2. Multi-faith spaces: characteristics and challenges

a) Shared spaces

WHO are the potential users? -mainly believers but also non-believers

BUT ... MFS are shared spaces or
    -there is NO OPERATIONALITY (multiplication of rooms) and
    -NO NEUTRALITY (and the option to privilege some religions)...

The case of Barajas airport:

 Terminal 4 (international & domestic flights): 3 spaces

General View of the MF zone
Oratory: but divided in two spaces (1 multi-faith + 1 Muslim)

Multi-faith room


Chapel (Catholic)

Dedicated to Santiago by Cardinal Rouco on February 2006

 Terminal 1 (only international flights): the same three spaces

Oratory? Chapel? confusing signals
Chapel (Catholic)

Dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe


Multi-faith space (for THE OTHERS... non Catholics and non Muslims)


Terminal 2 (domestic flights) ONLY CATHOLIC CHAPEL (dedicated to the Virgin of Loreto)

More information: "Identidad, extranjería y religión: los lugares de culto en el aeropuerto de Barajas (Madrid)"
in Los otros entre nosotros: Alteridad e Inmigración, Madrid, Círculo de Bellas Artes, 2009, 73-111.


 MFS = strong trend towards neutrality of design and management .... HOW?... it's A multifaceted CHALLENGE


b) The issue of orientation

Most demanding religions:
 Islam (Mecca)
 Judaism (Jerusalem)
 Ortodox Christians (East)

Solution: marking that directions in the MFS.


c) The challenge of conflicting times

‘The elephant in the prayer room’ (Hewson & Brand 2011: 18): Five daily prayers changing along the year (with extreme differences in solstices) difficult to combine with other users...

Barajas, Terminal 4, prayer schedule at the door of the mosque

At times of intense religious practice for particular festivities that may coincide, we cannot rule out the possibility of an incompatible timetable, most probably extremely difficult to solve when only one multi-faith space is available.


d) The issue of position during worship

There are two main categories:

 - religions during whose acts of worship participants use chairs, low benches or the like and come in using footwear. This group includes most Christian denominations, Jews and followers of religions or religious groups with a strong European or Western leaning.

 - religions whose followers sit directly on the floor and remove their footwear before entering the place of worship. Muslims, most types of Buddhists, Hindus and followers of eastern and African (and generally ethnic) religions usually fit into this group.
Both categories have different management and hygiene needs.


e) Other elements for a neutral design in multi-faith spaces

-Design (circular / square): the simpler, the better...

-Spaciousness of the room

Barajas, terminal 1 (third space, for THE OTHERS) as a bad example (the room is ridiculous)

-Special pieces of furniture: for shoes...

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Hindu temple

Madrid, Estrecho's mosque

Madrid, M30's mosque


-Storage room


3. Neutral multi-faith spaces: design proposals


a) Model 1: two rooms, one with chairs and one without

-two rooms, differentiating users depending on the position they adopt during worship or the time spent in quiet reflection (NOT because of the religion they profess).

-storage room not very large

-only a sign on the wall, indicating Mecca / Jerusalem / East

- a simple design, with two square rooms separated by a storage room-cum-office

Graph 1:
A = room without chairs
B = room with chairs
C = Storage room-cum-office
* = Orientation (Mecca/Jerusalem/East)
D= door

The advantages of this model are that they solve the following issues:

 - The main problems of conflicting times in both spaces and also as spaces for quiet reflection.

 - Problems of hygiene

 - logistics of the use or not of chairs


b) Model 2: two rooms connected by a sliding door

Problem: when high-attendance ceremonies... but a false solution is the implementation of a single MFS...

A possible solution: two square rooms and incorporate a sliding partition

Graph 2:
A = room without chairs
B = room with chairs
C = Storage room-cum-office
* = Orientation (Mecca/Jerusalem/East)
D= door
SP=sliding partition

Problems: soundproofing and the location of the storage room-cum-office... 


4. Conclusion: the need for a pragmatic and inclusive approach

Neutrality as a trend but as an impossibility... sp. in that kind of spaces combining GLOBAL and LOCAL (specific location but with universal models of thinking the question)... intermingles... local, national, global...

To be pragmatics with ... history and of material and non-material heritage... to be operational

Spain is a case in point: the significance of the Catholic heritage in these kinds of centres is often considerable (hospitals, military quarters, airports and universities house Catholic chapels of great artistic and historical value, and frequent use), therefore a wider range of solutions is required, in anticipation of a global one...

Madrid, Universidad Complutense. Faculty of Philosophy. Catholic Chapel (NO ALTERNATIVE = CONFLICT)

University of La Laguna. Catholic Chapel BUT in the 80´s and 90´s the space was used for cultural activities,
ex. the exposition La cité des images (Greek gods in consecrated space)...
there´s a recent Catholic reivindication of the space but only for Catholic use (mainly specific groups as Communion and Liberation)

Hospital of Baza (Granada)... only one space... Catholic Chapel

A proposal of a typology with ten models in Spain: "Los espacios multiconfesionales en centros públicos en España: ensayo de tipología":
Bandue. Revista de la Sociedad Española de Ciencias de las Religiones 6 (2012): 65-111

BUT also to design friendly spaces for non believers... cooperation rather than confrontation.

New proposals: hospital of Guadix (Granada), implemented in 2007 and designed without chapel or any other worship space