Building the Sacred in Suburbia: Improvisation, Reinvention and Innovation

Claire Dwyer, David Gilbert, Nazneen Ahmed

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This paper explores diverse practices of religious place-making in suburban space drawing from a research project on the making of suburban faith in West London. We argue that the creative cultures and spaces of suburban faith communities are often marginalized in enduring narratives of secular suburban materialism. In contrast, through an analysis of creative responses to suburban space by different faith communities, at different time periods, we suggest both the persistence of suburban faiths and the creativity of suburban faith communities. We argue that creativity is evident through processes of improvisation in the creation of makeshift places of worship in early ‘frontier suburbs’ and in the creative re-adaptation and reinvention of former buildings to new places of worship, often by diasporic faith communities. Finally we emphasize architectural innovation in making new places of worship which engage directly and imaginatively with suburban space. Our analysis suggests the importance of suburban faith communities in the making of suburban spaces and cultures, and the relevance of religion, and sacred place-making, in wider re-evaluations of suburban creativity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBuilt Environment
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2015


  • Suburbs
  • Religion
  • Architecture
  • London
  • Creativity
  • Planning
  • Hinduism
  • Christianity
  • Islam

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