Our Need for Spiritual Spaces is Universal

Bridges between the sacred and the natural

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This article is from the archive of Roca Gallery. It was first published in March, 2022

We live in times of uncertainty and unpredictability. This gives rise to a deep sense of insecurity and fear that affects us at the core of our everyday lives. In times like these, our innate need to seek a sense of connection with others as well as a place of calm and peace in balance with our inner selves is awakened and heightened to a new level. This makes our desire for the experience of spiritual spaces even more acutely felt than it would be in less tumultuous times.

The spirituality of a space is first and foremost defined by the experience of a harmonious relationship between oneself and the surrounding environment. It may be simply out in nature, in the forest or the hills, by the sea or a lake, or in a space made by the human hand. It may be a moment in peace and quiet on one’s own, or a shared experience with others.

The spirituality of a space has a healing impact that allows us to feel at once securely rooted, uplifted and liberated. It may be the calming experience of a bathing ritual in a wooden sauna by the lake, or a moment of skiing on the untouched new white snow in the forest, or the comforting feeling of listening to a concert in a space with great acoustics.

The longing to reach towards something higher and bigger than oneself, and to experience a feeling of being one with something more than just ourselves—part of it and in harmony with it—is a universal human need that has existed throughout history in all cultures. It’s something that’s not limited to religious spaces, rather it can take many different forms. Depending on the context it can draw from a relationship with nature and tradition, or it can be more urban and contemporary.

At the core of a spiritual space there’s a sense of being lifted above and beyond the everyday, stepping into a world outside of the routines of a life filled with practical tasks. It’s about something that’s very basic and simple, stripped of any unnecessary elements, something that touches our senses in a way that’s at once both gentle and strong. While it enables us to get connected with the most basic qualities of life, it also allows us to reach beyond the limitations of the everyday and to aspire to something higher.

Interior of a spiritual space in Finland.
A strong sense of materiality is evoked by the natural roughness of the handcrafted wooden elements, Kärsämäki Church, Kärsämäki, Finland, 2004, Anssi Lassila/OOPEAA. Photo © Jussi Tiainen

The traditional wooden churches in Finland made by hand by local craftsmen are an excellent example. Making use of the best skills of the carpenters and the qualities of the local wood, they are carefully created masterpieces that reach well beyond the practical necessities of the everyday. As a natural material, wood brings a sense of softness and warmth to these vernacular wooden churches. The feeling of wood with its texture and smell play an important role in the experience of these spaces. They create a bridge between the sacred and the natural in a unique way, something that resonates strongly with the Finnish experience of life.

Churches as spaces for the community

I’ve had the opportunity to create many churches and chapels in different kinds of places and for different types of communities, from small villages in rural settings surrounded by nature, like the Kärsämäki Church, to diverse multicultural communities in urban neighborhoods, with the Tikkurila Church and Housing as the most recent example. What is common to all of them is their role as spaces where the residents can come together and their importance as landmarks in the community.

The building itself is only a small part of the overall experience of a spiritual space. The way in which it sits in the surrounding landscape, be it rural or urban, and the way in which one approaches the building and enters its space is an important part of the experience. The choreography of movement, which guides the visitor in approaching the space and moving within it is always a very important part of creating an atmosphere that supports the spiritual experience, whether as a place in which we can come together with others or as a space of quiet contemplation.

Spiritual space and social housing in Finland.
An urban living room in a multicultural neighborhood, Tikkurila Church and Housing, Vantaa, Finland, 2021, Anssi Lassila/OOPEAA. Photo © Tuomas Uusheimo

The spiritual sense of space is very much defined by the harmony of the dimensions of the space as well as by the way in which the spaces flow from one to the next. This is where the variations between different heights have an important role. They give the building a sculptural shape with an identifiable character, while also making possible distinctly different atmospheres from inviting and cozy upon entering, to uplifting and spacious in the most sacred core of the building.

A space with a healing, spiritual atmosphere is simple. It’s welcoming, easily approachable, comforting, yet uplifting. The combination of carefully composed dimensions with a simple material palette offers a space of contemplation in which the gaze turns both upwards and inwards. It’s a place of peace and calm in which one can feel a sense of connection with one’s inner self as well as a dialogue between one’s internal voice and the experience of the world in a larger sense; a space that provides a balancing counter element to the ever-present dynamics of watching others, and all the  posing on digital media that defines so much of our everyday lives today.

Main image: A wooden church in the countryside built with traditional methods, Kärsämäki Church, Kärsämäki, Finland, 2004, Anssi Lassila/OOPEAA. Photo © Jussi Tiainen


Photography and editing: Janne Savon, Tuomas Uusheimo
Organ music: Marjukka Andersson


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