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Inhabiting the Sacred in Everyday Life

How to Design a Place That Touches Your Heart, Stirs You to Consecrate and Cultivate It as Home, Dwell Intentionally within It, Slay Monsters for It, and Let It Loose in Your Democracy
Randolph T. Hester, Jr., and Amber D. Nelson

BUY Paper · 300 pp. · 8 × 10 · ISBN 9781938086656 · $39.50 · Jun 2019

Human beings in the 21st century hunger, often unconsciously, for places to live that are more than efficient, economical machines. Inhabiting the Sacred offers sound and innovative guidance to both citizens and planning professionals who seek to transform public spaces into sites that answer not only practical needs but spiritual and humanitarian needs as well. The book explains how to give form in everyday landscapes to our most deeply held values and most ennobling purposes, thus turning profane spaces into sacred places.

This transformation may be accomplished in interior and exterior private and civic spaces alike. Complex projects may require the assistance of a professional designer and planner, but many projects can be carried out by the individual or family. The processes and techniques described in these pages may even assist indigenous people or other groups in defending territories crucial to their cultural survival. To shape neighborhood and civic space into sacred place requires a partnership between citizens, government and public officials, planners and designers; this book is a resource for all who play these various roles in their communities.

The book is organized as a practical guide to creating more meaningful and fulfilling habitation that harmonizes with local culture and personal experiences. Each chapter provides theory, case studies, and how-to techniques aggregated from nearly fifty years of research and practice of embedding values into public landscapes.


In our technology-focused culture, the practice of being in and learning with your community is an underappreciated art. Inhabiting the Sacred in Everyday Life is at once a meditation on the power of place and a step-by-step guide to making thoughtful community change in your own neighborhood. Hester and Nelson break down their sophisticated approach to landscape architecture practice into six digestible steps that help designers, planners, and community leaders reconnect with our senses, work across differences, identify shared values, and organize collectively to make meaningful change. The book takes a humble, artful, and practical tone to the important work of community design, and weaves design practice back to the sacred rituals of everyday life.

Barbara Brown Wilson, University of Virginia, author of Resilience for All: Striving for Equity through Community-Driven Design

Hester and Nelson have produced a personal manifesto to challenge our way of seeing, thinking, and living. This book has value to citizen activists and those who aspire to be as well as to seasoned designers who need to be reintroduced to the why of design. Poetic and filled with vivid stories and well-placed sketches and photos, Inhabiting the Sacred is a must-read for anyone who cares about place.

Rodney Swink, Senior Associate for Planning and Development at PlaceEconomics

As an educator, scholar, and landscape architectect, I am convinced that Inhabiting the Sacred in Everyday Life should be required reading of all students and practitioners in the environmental design fields. As they follow Hester and Nelson’s personal and communal journeys, they will learn how the best places should touch the heart, inspire contemplation, and teach the essential nature of interconnectedness.

Daniel Nadenicek, University of Georgia, author of Cultivating American Civilization: Frederick Billings and Nineteenth-century Landscape Improvement

In Inhabiting the Sacred in Everyday Life, Hester and Nelson seamlessly interweave deeply sophisticated reflection stemming from decades of hands-on work with remarkably accessible practical advice. The six steps and associated techniques the authors outline move readers through a process of collective learning, making, honoring, and inhabiting sacred places. This beautiful book is a meditation on what it means to belong to place and to have a place belong to you.

Kaitlin M. Murphy, University of Arizona, author of Mapping Memory: Visuality, Affect, and Embodied Politics in the Americas

Combining the wisdom of Randy Hester’s forty-year study of sacred landscapes with a fresh look at the topic by Amber Nelson, this delightful and beautifully illustrated book should be required reading for every student entering a design and planning program. The techniques described in the six steps toward inhabiting the sacred provide specifics on how to preserve those special places in our everyday lives, once again inspiring those of us who have followed and admired Hester’s work for decades.

Linda Jewell, University of California, Berkeley

Beautiful drawings and such meaningful words! Reading this book gives me a calming and serene feeling. There is an immediate sensation of being teleported to a spiritual realm. Yet what Hester and Nelson address are very down-to-earth matters of the everyday place. Connectedness of the common and the sacred, coupled with the essential interdependency of justice and space, are the core values that will resonate across time and culture.

John K. C. Liu, Chairman of the Building and Planning Research Foundation, National Taiwan University

About the Author(s): 

Randolph T. Hester Jr. is Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, the Director of the Center for Ecological Democracy, and a practicing landscape architect in North Carolina. He is the author, most recently, of Design for Ecological Democracy.

Amber D. Nelson is an independent landscape designer based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the South America Destination Manager for a sustainable place-based travel company, Context Travel.

Frederick R. Steiner is Dean of the School of Design and Paley Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

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