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To the casual visitor to our current monastery, appearances may seem to indicate a set of buildings in decent condition, in a peaceful rural setting. Such a visitor may find himself wondering why a new monastery needs to be built at all. Couldn’t the current buildings be repaired? Couldn’t they be added onto?
There are four main reasons that an entirely new monastery complex is necessary.
> The buildings are too small.
> The building layout is not conducive to monastic life.
> The buildings are in poor condition.
> Development is coming closer to the buildings.
In addition to these considerations, there is also the issue of the condition of the existing buildings. Over the years, the physical state of the buildings has worsened and is becoming increasingly unhealthy and dangerous. In the past several years alone, a number of electrical, mechanical, and other elements have required repeated repairs and major expenditures.
Several years ago, a professional contractor evaluated the buildings and determined that given the literally crumbling nature of the current buildings and the growing list of failing infrastructure systems, further repair and reconstruction would require millions of dollars – an expense that is not an advisable or sound financial decision.
To a visitor coming from a busy metropolis, our current property may seem bucolic and far removed from civilization; and it certainly is by no means an urban monastery. Highway 12, however, is expanding and becoming more and more traveled; the trend of the last 20 years also indicates that local development and construction is creeping closer and closer to our monastery property – indeed, recently the government required a few of our acres for highway expansion. Furthermore, our current property has no space viable for construction of a sufficiently large building complex.
A monastery contains a whole lifestyle: it is home, church, and workplace all in one. The sisters live in this environment 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for their entire life.
In terms of square footage per occupant, it may seem like there is plenty of space for 20 women. However, the common areas—that is, the rooms in which we all gather for community activities, such as the choir loft and refectory—are filled to capacity, with no way to enlarge this capacity. We are also running out of bedrooms for newcomers.
Choir loft is at capacity, with no room to expand.
“Isn’t there enough room in all this square footage to house a mere 20 women?”
“It seems that the problem of not enough space could be solved simply by adding on to the existing buildings.”
The space shortage is not the only issue with the current monastery. Besides being too small, the buildings and rooms themselves are not conducive to daily monastic life and its rhythms and schedule.
Monasteries have traditionally been built on a quadrangle layout: a central courtyard, with all the monastic buildings built around it. On a functional level, this makes for more efficient traffic flow within the monastery; but the layout of the rooms is not simply a matter of utility. One’s surroundings have a deep psychological effect on a person living in them, especially when one is living in the same buildings all day, every day, permanently. It is important that the architecture and layout of rooms reflect the deeper spiritual ideals of the community that dwells in the building.
“Couldn’t the current buildings be repaired?”
“So you need a new monastery building. But do you need a whole new property? Couldn’t you build a new monastery somewhere else on your existing property?”
Above: Current monastery complex.
Compare a bird’s-
One can see that we already have a basic eastern half of a cloister; couldn’t we simply add on the western half?
What is not apparent from the bird’s-
Right: Traditional monastic quadrangle.
Why build a new monastery?