Led by L.E.FT, a series of town hall meetings were held in Pratt House’s empty spaces. The conversations that resulted between the diverse and sometimes theologically-opposed participants were dynamic yet respectful, and helped formulate new interpretations of sacrality, spirituality, and iconography. Through these workshops, a “spiritual map” of the campus was produced, capturing students’ informal, creative religious spatial practices, visualizing a permissive spiritual territory rather than one imposed by religious authorities. The RSLCP’s spaces and programs were designed to facilitate and reinforce the practices illuminated by the map. RSLCP program is designed to complement and reinforce religiously driven programs already provided on the campus rather than duplicate them.
A desire for material and spatial economy drove the architectural strategy of the interior of the building. This approach was also extended to the exterior surrounding landscape. Vassar College’s construction activities and their associated material wastes were mapped, and excess building materials—from brick to bluestone— were identified and then upcycled to construct a processional meditation labyrinth on the RSLCP’s grounds.
The project fundamentally transformed the house's existing spaces, while minimizing physical alterations. The design’s primary strategy was one of un-doing. The house interior tectonic elements were reconfigured to achieve the RSLCP’s spatial goals. Across the house, damaged floors were stitched with new wood planks only where necessary and still-functional existing spaces and elements were maintained. Removing the second-floor ceiling slab allows the new shared prayer hall a more generous height, integrating the historic pitched roof and exposing its wooden rafters. A new punched skylight provides natural ventilation and light. During disassembly, structurally superfluous wood beams were identified and reused to support the roof ridge and frame the openings of the prayer room’s new doors.
To complement the acupunctural architectural method, hybrid built-in components were designed to serve the liturgical needs of the RSLCP’s multireligious community, such as a kosher kitchen wing, configured to also fulfill halal requirements. Another main piece was a multi-denominational, multi-directional prayer carpet whose geometric composition adapts to the diverse orientations necessary to perform prayers (Makkah, East, Jerusalem, etc.) and to varied forms of assembly (linear, circular, sitting, squatting, etc.). Stepping into the prayer hall, a group can identify and be guided by a certain form—for example, a circle for bible study or halaqa—or directionality. The built-ins also include the first ADA-compliant ablution basin in the United States—a typology currently absent from published ADA “secular” codes. An adaptable table system supports the varied communal religious feasts. Its reconfigurable units provide a variety of table tops and seat capacities: from a square surface for food preparation to an extra-long Iftar dining table. The overall architectural resolution is hybrid. Taking inspiration from the long tradition of reuse found in historical religious architecture, it transforms Pratt House’s structure into a layered condition of interwoven spaces and religious practices. The design also rearticulates traditional spatial practices in a contemporary language, meeting the needs of an ever-shifting socio-religious landscape.
"What we most appreciate is how well aligned the design is to our stated hope of a space that would serve the full spectrum of religious and secular students we engage. Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, and spiritual student communities are figuring out how to share the space—and share the recognition that their particular needs were designed into it. The result is changing the role our office plays in campus life." Rev Dr Sam Speers, Associate Dean of the College
L.E.FT is a New York / Beirut based architectural office, established in 2005 by architects Makram el Kadi and Ziad Jamaleddine. L.E.FT’s work includes cultural and religious buildings, located in diverse and sometimes contested contexts. These include the Beirut Exhibition Center, located in war-torn downtown Beirut, and the award-winning Amir Shakib Arslan mosque, located in the religiously rich Lebanon’s mountains. Currently, the office has instigated a restoration effort for the historical synagogue in Alley Village, which was deserted during the Lebanese Civil War. The partners’ design practice is complemented by their scholarly work which allows a space to deeply investigate the history of religious architecture. Recent research inquiries include: ‘Pray-Grounds,’ showcased at the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale; ‘Tawaf,’ at the 2018 Triennale di Milano; and ‘Right to Shade', Sharjah Architecture Triennale (2019) and ‘Gravel Mosque’, Jeddah Islamic Arts Biennale (2022).