Page C2.2 . 11 April 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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    Sleek Modern Papal Center

    (continued)

    Leo A Daly appears to have balanced modern design, polished materials, and vibrant colors with just the right amount of formal restraint. The designers seem also to have satisfied the pope's desire for a contemporary building in a city he describes as the international cultural "crossroads" for the 21st century.

    The exterior impresses with its combination of rectangular, angled, curved, and cylindrical forms arranged compactly on the site. The religious symbolism is subdued.

    In fact, if not for the 75-foot (23-meter) gold-colored cross that pierces the building's roof over the chapel, one would never suspect that this structure was intended to be the "international focal point for the study of Catholic teachings," as a press release describes it.

    This is a good move, I think, because it exhibits sensitivity to the "interfaith" element of the center's program a place where scholars from different faith traditions are welcome, and where, according to Father G. Michael Bugarin, the center's executive director, exhibits will encourage visitors "to reflect on their own faith and explore the faith of others."

    The dominant exterior materials are limestone, copper, granite, and glass, same as those found in abundance in the buildings of official Washington.

    Visitors enter through a rotunda element that sits comfortably next to the center's long rectangular bar building. The rotunda interior is rendered in light tones and polished surfaces, and is dominated by a large, banded window punctuated with green glass.

    Most of the first level is dedicated to visitor spaces, including an exhibit hall devoted to the pope's Polish heritage and the Gallery of Mary, both of which were designed by Edwin R. Schlossberg, Inc. (ESI) of New York. ESI also designed the interactive exhibits throughout the building.

    Extending to the east from the main building is a small chapel that stretches out to and over a long reflecting pool. The chapel is understated, distinguished with light-colored plaster sprinkled with gold dust, limestone accents, and eucalyptus-stained maple furnishings.

    Splayed window slots puncture its walls, like those in Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut, at Ronchamp, France, pouring natural light into this space. The chapel, primarily intended for use by visiting scholars, hovers half on land, half on water, symbolizing the significance of baptism.

    More exhibit spaces and galleries are found one level down from the entry level, along with orientation theaters, a gift shop, and cafe. The floor above the entry level also holds exhibit areas.

    Threading its way like a ribbon through these interior public areas is a switch-back walkway with a gentle slope that allows both the able-bodied and the disabled to share the same experience of moving though the building.

    The ramp opens the three exhibit floors to each other and helps to animate these spaces with the constant promenade of visitors. Sequestered on the top floor are facilities for visiting scholars, housed in the Intercultural Forum, a center of research and teaching. Here are also the executive offices and other support spaces.

    Architecture particularly classical design has been used throughout the ages to establish authority and to express power. You won't find that at the Papal Cultural Center. Light and openness, instead, marks this building as a product of American architecture in a new millennium.

    Michael J. Crosbie, a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek, is an associate at Steven Winter Associates and the editor of Faith & Form magazine.

     

    AW

    ArchWeek Photo

    Splayed window slots puncture its walls, like those in Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut, at Ronchamp.
    Photo: Maxwell Mackenzie

    ArchWeek Photo

    The chapel is primarily intended for use by visiting scholars.
    Photo: Maxwell Mackenzie

    ArchWeek Photo

    The entrance rotunda is rendered in light tones and polished surfaces, dominated by a large, banded window punctuated with green glass.
    Photo: Maxwell Mackenzie

    ArchWeek Photo

    Threading its way like a ribbon through the three exhibit floors is a switch-back walkway with a gentle slope.
    Photo: Maxwell Mackenzie

    ArchWeek Photo

    Auditorium of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.
    Photo: Maxwell Mackenzie

     

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