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A Talk With Richard S. Vosko

In an exclusive interview with Church Designer magazine, Vosko, a veteran liturgical design consultant, examines the role of the church architect over the years.

By Keith Loria   •  March 29, 2017 4:30 pm EDT

Tags: acoustics, architectural design, architecture, avl technology, business, sustainability, worship,

As a longtime liturgical design consultant and ordained Catholic priest, Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, has a unique perspective when it comes to design, looking at religious architecture with an ecumenical and interfaith eye.

He has consulted on worship projects for more than 45 years and has written books on the subject, including “God's House Is Our House: Re-imagining the Environment for Worship” and “Designing Worship Spaces: The Mystery of a Common Vision.” His current writing project is called “Architecture for Community Worship: The Search for Common Ground."

Vosko presides during worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Albany, N.Y., and continues to consult and lecture on sacred space planning around the U.S. and Canada.

Changing Tides

“Mainstream religions are, according to many studies, losing members, while non-denominational churches are gaining members. This has changed the role of the architect who is now asked to design less traditional-looking buildings. We’re at a time in history where the buildings are more modern in style and more functional for the needs of the congregation,” Vosko says.

He says today’s liturgical designers are also paying more attention to energy conversation, ecological concerns, flexibility and technology.

“I am the art consultant for the new 3,500-seat United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. The budget includes advanced technology for a production studio, projection equipment, screens, creative acoustical and lighting systems,” Vosko says. “These are things more churches are investing in.”

Leaning Green

One advancement Vosko has seen a great deal of recently is the installation of LED lights in the church setting. While non-denominational churches use them for effect during worship, the more mainstream churches install them to cut down on energy consumption.

Going green is also gaining ground in church design, including the additions of rooftop gardens, the use of solar panels and southern exposures in some regions.

“A key thing here is that whoever is designing churches today will have to be ecologically sensitive, and with an eye to the future,” he says. “Designing environmentally sustainable buildings using organic and local materials is important.”

Technology vs. Tradition

Another trend by many churches is to have multiple campuses and to stream services over the Internet. Also, there are statistics that show some congregations are re-purposing buildings rather than constructing new ones. Designers need to consider the multi purpose functions of church buildings—worship, education, hospitality, and social outreach.

Architectural changes have come a little slower for the mainline churches. As Vosko notes, most Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran churches, for example, are still a little reticent about streaming services or using advanced technology too much during the church liturgy.

Vosko’s design philosophy of a worthy place for worship centers around the time-honored ingredients such as stories of faith, pilgrimage pathways, transforming thresholds, intimate settings for personal prayer, artwork that prompts works of justice and seating plans that engage the community in the public rituals.

“Using metaphorical equations to design the worship arena, my hope in any project is that the congregation will be transformed by the very space it is helping to create or transform,” he says. “To evoke a sense of the sacred the building must be designed with attention to detail, scale, proportion, materials, color, illumination and acoustics,” he says. “All art and furnishings must be of the highest caliber afforded by the community.”

Looking to the years ahead, Vosko foresees a pendulum swing where, in reaction to busy lifestyles and the constant use of social media, younger generations will be seeking less hectic and more contemplative worship experiences. Church architecture will need to reflect this in some way.

“Studies show that some Millennials, for example, feel disenfranchised and that the mainline religions are not addressing their lives. However, they’re not interested in a lot of strict rules and regulation,” he says. “I don’t believe that building traditional churches will return people to the pews, but that people will be attracted to places of worship and liturgical styles that meet their needs. That is leading to a different approach to church design.”


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