No. 273 . 01 February 2006 
ArchitectureWeek
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Of Glass and Warmth and Wood

by Katharine Logan

When a theological seminary commissioned a worship space that would be timeless, spiritually uplifting, and ecumenical, architect Joan Soranno returned to first principles, posing to herself the question: "what is each individual's relationship to God?" In a striking play of form and material, her answer offers a fresh take on religious architecture.

Soranno, a project designer with Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, Inc. (HGA), designed the award-winning Bigelow Chapel at the request of the United Theological Seminary, New Brighton, Minnesota. Her goal was to express religious experience as intimacy, warmth, and light.

"We wanted to create a feeling of awe in the sanctuary," she explains, "and we thought about Gothic cathedrals, where the scale is monumental, and the darkness helps bring down the scale to one of intimacy. Here in the Bigelow Chapel, we wanted the scale to be smaller and intimate, but be flooded with light."

Anyone who visits the chapel will see how, with spectacular sweeps of translucent maple veneer defining the sanctuary interior, Soranno's team achieved their aspiration.

The building has just received an AIA Honor award. The jury describes the Chapel as "architectural language beautifully executed, with immaculate detailing and elegant use of light, thoughtfully attached to the existing structures... a true work of art."   >>>

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