It’s a place of calm and quiet, a shrine of spirituality and stability, a sacred space for people of all creeds to come to contemplate and connect. With time. With history. With one’s self.

The oval-shaped metal structure, inherently peaceful and protective, is designed to help visitors turn inward, reflect, and find tranquility. A gangway leads guests through an industrial-looking door⁠—and into a different environment and mindset.

The Meditation Pavilion at Washington State University’s award-winning Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center resembles a sort of rocky outcropping in relation to the main building’s undulating form, inspired in part by the earth shelters and mat houses of the Palouse region’s Nez Perce Tribe. Inside, the sparse, dimly lighted, chapel-like space contains a Sacred Earth Ring, made of soil from Nez Perce land⁠—a reminder of their historical connection to this place.

“Designing a building such as this compels us to think and to ask why,” says J. Philip “Phil” Gruen, an associate professor in the School of Design and Construction at WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. “It helps us to recognize what has been done and who has been excluded. At the same time, it asks us to slow down and think about what could be, and I think that’s the strength of this space. It is asking us to be more introspective.”

Gruen sees the entire complex, completed in 2017, “as a symbol of our times.” Its overall design, sustainable elements, and motifs and other references to marginalized groups “allow us to confront the history of the land that the University sits on in a way that no other building on campus does.

“When this building was built, 2020”⁠—with the coronavirus pandemic, political unrest, and Black Lives Matter protests⁠—“had not happened yet. In many ways, it almost seems to now serve an even greater purpose: for contemplating ideas of stability, and where we’ve been, where we are, and where we might go.”

Crowd gathered inside the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center at WSUOpening of the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center, September 22, 2017 (Photo Robert Hubner)


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Gallery: The Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center