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The Economist did an article on them. 

Shared worship spaces
God’s new digs

The best multifaith prayer rooms are those where architects bow out
Mar 23rd 2013 |From the print edition

SIKHS built four doors to the Golden Temple at Amritsar, in north India, to 
welcome believers from all four corners of their earth. But in the five 
centuries since, few religions have followed that tolerant example. Hindus and 
Muslims fight fiercely over religious ruins in ancient Ayodhya. Christians have 
long wrangled among themselves, and with other faiths, over Jerusalem’s holy 

Yet a recent trend is more promising. In the past decade at least 1,500 
multifaith prayer rooms have appeared in Britain alone, estimates Andrew 
Crompton, professor of architecture at Liverpool University, in research to be 
published in the Journal of Architecture. At least 90 are open to the faithful 
(and often to the faithless too, represented by a blank space on multifaith 
signs) in airports, according to the International Association of Civil 
Aviation Chaplains. A prayer room in the Zurich railway station draws up to 
1,000 visitors daily during Swiss holidays.

In this section
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God’s new digs
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United Kingdom
Heathrow Airport
A few airport rooms are converted chapels, such as Our Lady of the Airways at 
Boston, originally built for Catholics in 1952. But most are built from 
scratch. London’s Heathrow airport now has ten, with two under construction. 
They can be found at football venues (from FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich to the 
Etihad Stadium in Melbourne), at shopping centres and some motorway service 

Secularists bristle. Terry Sanderson, president of Britain’s National Secular 
Society, says that Muslim prayer needs have fuelled the demand: multifaith 
rooms are, in effect, mosques that creep into the public space, cloaked behind 
political correctness. But they are also a product of public attitudes that are 
unconcerned about religious difference, suggests Johannes Stückelberger, a 
theologian and expert in church aesthetics at the University of Bern in 

Designing a sacred space that can cater to all faiths is a headscratcher for 
architects. “No one yet knows how to do it,” says Mr Crompton. Some attempts to 
be scrupulously inclusive, by using Lazy-Susan altars (which rotate to face 
east for Catholics or to Mecca for Muslims, as required), may be offensive. 
Those that are too mechanised, such as the German Gebetomat—a vending booth for 
prayers in 65 languages which Mr Crompton dubs “multifaith for cheapskates”—can 
seem tacky. The preferred solution in many places has been to furnish rooms as 
neutrally as possible.

That need not mean banality, says Carol Phillips, who designed Toronto 
University’s multifaith prayer hall. To create a non-specific sense of ritual 
and reverence, she stressed light and nature. Onyx ceilings and walls filter 
the light. Ventilators remove the scent of burnt sweetgrass (a feature of 
native American gatherings) for subsequent users. A symbolic split entrance 
allows Muslim women to pray out of the view of men. Screened alcoves conceal 
Hindu deities.

Even the best-designed spaces need continual attention. Some ban proselytising. 
Prayer mats or temporary religious paraphernalia can become permanent fixtures. 
At Heathrow Devraj Singh Khalsa, the Sikh pastor (one in an interfaith team of 
22 clerics) ended up trying to soothe Shia Muslims whose clay praying tablets 
were being binned by puritanical Wahhabi users, who follow Sunni Islam (the 
Muslim minister, a Sunni himself, says relations are harmonious). The 
chaplains’ call-out rota means they must help people from other creeds too. Mr 
Singh often reassures anxious Christians before they fly.

Frankfurt’s Goethe University is the first in Germany to have a multifaith Haus 
der Stille, or house of silence, which opened in 2010. Eugen Eckert, its 
Protestant chaplain, recalls a dispute between a female Christian student and a 
male Muslim scholar who asked her to pray elsewhere. Most take it in turns to 
use the room, rather than pray together. But Catholic and Muslim ministers hold 
a monthly peace prayer.

For Mr Crompton the real innovation is ministers working together on problems 
that arise from such unusual religious spaces, not “hideous” new architectural 
blueprints for them. The best designs are those that develop organically: 
impromptu, cheap and temporary. “Architecture often spoils the party,” he 
admits. Some of the most successful prayer rooms came about without 
professional advice, hastily squeezed between the toilets and the lifts. God is 
there too.

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