Religion may divide, but the Multi-Faith Centre gathers and affirms
Within the secular context of the University of Toronto, Canada’s largest university, the challenge was to create a unique venue for the practice of religion, where members of all faiths feel equally welcome and valued.
The design paradox was to create ‘faith-neutral’ spaces perceived as a sanctuary for all, yet with innovative elements that allow spaces to adapt quickly to diverse particular needs. Avoiding icons and symbolism, ‘light’ emerged as a common theme to all faiths and became the central feature of the main hall. A dramatic ceiling and east facing front wall of back-lit translucent white onyx illuminates the space. Sacred numerology and geometries were applied to create a ceiling mosaic that subtly references the religious structure of all faiths.
The new Multi-Faith Centre conquers the paradox, evoking no particular religion or faith, but speaking to transcendental qualities of spirituality, fellowship and peace. Its design offers a unique framework within which religious pluralism can be discussed, debated and understood.
The popularity of the Centre is unprecedented, accommodating student faith groups representing eight world religions and even winning the hearts of the secularists who had been early and vocal critics of the project. Within the first year of opening, the Centre was booked for over 1,323 events, in addition to the hundreds of students who drop in daily for individual prayer and study.
Prior to the creation of the Multi-Faith Centre, the campus priest had never met the rabbi. Now, new friendships and understanding are being forged as students participate in Multi-Faith dialogue and spiritual awareness (i.e. Jewish/Muslim exchange); academic and community partnerships exploring current affairs through a multi-faith lens; social justice; internships and leadership development; as well as art exhibits, poetry workshops, and concerts.
That architecture can inspire civility and understanding between people, no matter what their faith, is a powerful thing. Religion may often divide, but the Multi-Faith centre gathers and affirms.