Religious Design Rewarded
Four heavy concrete columns support a 40-foot (12-meter) ceiling in the hexagonal sanctuary. Branch-like beams sprout from the columns and support the ceiling whose fabric recalls tent flaps. A skylight forms the center of a Star of David and sheds a soft glow over the reader's table.
Placing the reader's table in the center of the space, as in the Sephardic tradition, also creates a more intimate relationship between the cantor and the congregation. Of this design, the jury observed that the main worship space "has a certain quality of the mysterious, with wonderful tent imagery."
Sky as Ceiling
Nondenominational spaces are some of the most challenging to design because the architect must accentuate the atmosphere of the sacred in lieu of specific worship requirements required by a readily identifiable, established congregation.
In the Glavin Family Chapel at Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts, William Rawn Associates has created a sacred space that incorporates themes of nature and light. The heart of the chapel is a 30-foot- (9-meter-) high space for gatherings of up to 150 people. Two virtually solid granite walls face the campus, while two walls of glass open up to views of the woods beyond.
The rounded boat hull form of the ceiling leads the eye up and out toward the trees and sky above. Themes of nature that are common to many religions abound in the chapel: the celestial imagery in the main doors of the sanctuary, the reeds and flowers at the base of the altar, and the dynamic waves that cascade across the stained glass windows.
Of this chapel, the jury noted that "there is an excellent fit of the building and the context in terms of the land immediately beyond it, and the way the chapel moves into nature."
Acknowledging the architectural context is the theme of the Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia, designed by LeMay Erickson Architects. A part of the town since 1874, the congregation wanted its new church building to reflect its architectural history. Gabled roof forms help blend the new structure with the scale of the existing chapel and smaller buildings in the vicinity.
Despite the monumental scale of the program and spaces, this church retains a sense of warmth and intimacy. "The design fits the Presbyterian context with its emphasis on the preached word," said the jury, and it "respects tradition with a fresh, modern interpretation."
In contrast to Vienna, a modern language invigorated by light underlies the design of the Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park, Kansas. The two-story arrangement stacks the worship space on top of a sunken first floor that contains a fellowship hall.
Shaughnessy Fickel and Scott Architects created a worship space that unfolds as one enters and experiences it. Controlled morning light bathes the sanctuary and highlights the cross. At night, interior lights flood the underside of the roof plane, allowing the warm glow of the ceiling to be viewed from outside as an invitation to worship.
The jury noted that "there is a remarkable sense of serenity in this space. The plan is an interesting form, and helps to create a sense of intimacy, despite the large number of seats."
Working with the Old
Restoration and addition figured prominently in several winning projects. The Prairie Repose Cemetery Chapel in Amboy, Illinois was a haven for birds and other wildlife before it was adopted by the Eckburg family for restoration. The 1905 building had not been in use for 30 years when Saavedra Gehlhausen Architects developed a restoration plan that, in the words of the jury, "provides a dramatic transformation."
The exterior was cleaned and the windows rebuilt and replaced. Accessibility was provided, and the floor plan redesigned to provide flexibility for various worship and secular functions, achieved through custom-designed movable pews and furnishings.
The interior features painted wood paneling and a new ceramic floor in a checkered pattern, in keeping with the chapel's original architectural style. "The completed restoration touches the heart with its charming quality," noted the jury, adding that the rejuvenated chapel has a serenity that is appropriate for its use."
Kerns Group Architects brought back to life the Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., returning the original 1794 church to a place of worship for 90 people. The chapel had been renovated into office and educational uses after a new church was constructed in 1850.
Flexible seating gathers the assembly in an intimate U-shaped plan around the altar in the spirit of community promoted by the Second Vatican Council. The chapel's simple, restrained detailing recalls the humble origins of the space. The jury found this project to be "stunning," adding that it has "a certain rigorous and rational quality that picks up on the tradition of the Jesuit Order."
The redesign of the Mother of Divine Providence Chapel in Allison Park, Pennsylvania, required rethinking how the convent's sisters could continue to use the space in a new way.
The design by JDBA Architects and Church Restoration Group reorganizes the space so that principal functions follow a linear path, reflecting the notion of spiritual journey. The new circular altar is visible from all sides, as it should be according to the Second Vatican Council.
The fact that all of the new furnishings are moveable permits unlimited flexibility of the space. The jury noted that, regarding the many users who are retired nuns, "this space is very responsive to their needs both spiritually and physically."
The renovation by Ann Beha Architects of the Cochran Chapel at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts reveals a deft, elegant solution to a functional problem. To expand the number of seats in this chapel, which serves as the school's spiritual and community life, Beha extended the existing organ loft into a new balcony accommodating 130 new seats.
The balcony reaches across the back of the chapel, sensitively preserving existing wood details. Said the jury: "This is a seamless addition to an historic space. A design that is harmonious was the right choice in this case and is the very essence of this project's success."
The awards jury included architects James Williamson and Maurice Finegold, liturgical consultant Cindy Swarts, Duke University Divinity School Dean Gregory Jones, and artist and art professor Robin Jensen. The awards program was sponsored by Faith & Form magazine and the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art, & Architecture.
Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.