Beautiful double rainbow over the site of the new st. thomas aquinas university parish in charlottesville, VA /
The St. John Catholic Student Center is in design with construction planned to commence in 2021. The Center will be composed of a 50,000 square foot student facility and a 10,000 square foot church, seating 400 students for daily Mass. A limestone veneer is planned for the church and brick for the student center. The church design is inspired by the Church of San Ambrosio in Milan Italy, an early Christian church dating back to the fifth Century.
San Ambrosio is also a red brick Romanesque structure with limestone accents. The student center exterior design is also inspired by Romanesque architecture, one of the original traditional Christian styles. Cram and Ferguson are designing the interior of the church in traditional religious furnishings.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, the new St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish Church is taking shape! /
I visited St Thomas Aquinas Church in Charlottesville, Virginia on the 16th to attend the weekly project meeting. These photos capture the state of the construction mid-April 2019. After an extraordinarily wet winter and spring held construction behind schedule, warm weather has finally arrived and the speed of events is beginning to pick up .
The copper-clad cupola atop the central dome was placed just two weeks ago and was gleaming in the sun. On entering the parking lot which is at the front of the Parish building below the church, one sees it sparkling above the brick Parish building.
The view from Alderman road conceals that fact that matching the existing Parish Building floor level required the church to be set into the hill below the level of Alderman Road. The full interior height of the church is not discernible on the Alderman Road elevation helping the church to fit in with the scale of the surrounding residential neighborhood.
On the interior of the church we see how the nave is quite large with the dome soaring above the future crossing. The dome rises 55 feet above the nave floor and the top of the cross is 74 feet above the floor. The dome will be roofed in copper as is the cupola and recalls the rotunda at the University Campus nearby.
The transept visible from Alderman Road will have three great Romanesque windows that will eventually be filled with religious glass.
Where formerly there was a bridge from Alderman Road to the church entrance now has been filled and a retaining wall now creates a gracious entrance plaza and a memorial rose garden will be planted in the space along the side of the church.
Brickwork has begun, a brick and mortar color chosen and a portion of one wall has been laid up for the architect to view and it was approved during my visit.
Our own Daniel Morel was the recipient of the Student Scholarship Award. Pictured from left: Ethan Anthony, Daniel Morel, Benita Morel and Jertrudis Morel.
a trip to italy to approve the carvings for St. thomas aquinas university parish in Charlottesville VA /
Ethan's speech for the Catholic Art Guild Conference and Gala: 'Formed in Beauty' November 4, 2018 /
THE SYMPHONY OF CREATIVITY
Throughout history, artists, architects and theologians have often developed prescriptions for achieving beauty in building and the arts. The earliest of these, the Ten Books on Architecture by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, was written by a Roman architect and engineer who lived in the first century B.C.
St Charles Borromeo’s Instructiones Fabricae Et Supellectilis Ecclesiasticae applied the teachings of the council of Trent to Church architecture and in the post Reformation era, the revival of Catholic Church Design was guided by The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, published in 1841.
In our own era we have had the SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM of POPE PAUL VI promulgated in 1963 and better known as Vatican Two and most recently Built of Living Stones was published by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000, a theological reflection on the liturgy and church architecture including church planning and art in worship spaces. In addition, in the last 15 years a number of books have questioned the teachings of Vatican II in favor of a return to those of Borromeo and Pugin.
Also the Bishop, Pastor, Building committee and various Diocesan Councils also play a part in the design and planning of American churches. After taking into account all of these, the architect must carefully solve the program needs. This must be done while respecting both general and specific building codes and achieving a great and beautiful space fit for the Catholic Liturgy. And, finally if that is not sufficient, all of this must usually be done on a budget that is too small to provide greatness of materials or finishes or any decent artwork let alone art glass windows.
So how do we architects of a new round of American Catholic churches avoid mediocrity and find a path through these many difficulties and restrictions to create a building which is beautiful and holy and filled with the Spirit?
How can the architect function as a resource for the Parish and the Pastor? If this new creation is to include the art and craft of other individual creators, how does the architect conduct this sometimes cacophonous orchestra and achieve a coordinated symphony of creativity?
And, did I forget to mention Beauty? We know it when we see it, we feel it, it goes to the core of our being…touches us personally, breaks through our defenses, our sophistication. Can beauty still be a possibility after all of these other factors have been taken into consideration?
Finding and following beauty is the beginning and end of my every day. I know it is a thing, that it exists. In fact I spend much of my time judging the beauty of the work of the multitude of artists, crafters and contractors who are working on our projects often far away.
When the concerted efforts of so many are required to produce a project, how can so many different people come together and how, can the architect guide the crafter or artist and still allow them some freedom to contribute?
How can one director provide guidance that may not be understood by the workers who produce the work or even the owner who pays for it until it is substantially complete? Can a guiding vision overcome differing levels of skill and conflicting ideas and guide the owner, the user and the many producers to a cohesive and beautiful result?
Cram wrote in 1914: “Every architect knows that the success of his work depends largely on the craftsmen who carry it out and complete it with all its decorative features of form and color, and yet in a nation of 100 million people, with a dozen schools of architecture practically nothing is done toward educating these same craftsmen, and either we secure the services of foreign-trained men, accept tenth rate native work or go without.”
The situation remained as Cram described through the 1960’s but has improved greatly in the last ten years. There are now schools of traditional art and craft in some major cities and crafters of high skill are becoming available as the demand for that kind of work begins to grow.
The great art workshops of the past such as those of Rembrandt and Rodin, and John Angel in the twentieth century followed a guiding vision that directed many individual artists to produce a vision of great beauty. They depended on many assistants working more or less independently, all learning the work from the master and each other and all gaining a common understanding of beauty based on starting from Precedent.
As the great artists did, we now gather around us a small group of arts and crafts specialists who carry out this vision and contribute as they produce artifacts and parts of buildings that follow these universal principles. We provide guidance for the wood, stone and iron work and other skills needed to complete the project. Truly, the architect is a composer and conductor to the orchestra of arts and crafts workers who create the building, their symphony.
We begin with the iconographic planning and a look at the traditional placements of iconography throughout the building. The placements for iconography are ultimately finally committed to drawings and there begins an iterative process with the artists and crafters and one that is more cycled than the typical shop drawing process such as that, for example, of producing wood cabinets.
The first drawings may be loose sketches which are then drawn in CADD. The artist then returns a submittal drawing that further refines the concept which is critiqued by us and returned with notes. In sculpture the next step after the sketch is a clay then, after it is approved, finally the marble is carved.
And what guides us as the Director of this symphony?
Two writers have provided clear guidance for the architect in this task; Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and John Ruskin.
A.W.N. Pugin studied, measured and sketched medieval catholic churches across England and began the gothic revival with his 1835 design for St George’s Cathedral in Southwark England the first new Catholic church to be built in England in 300 years. Much of the revival was framed by Pugin in his books, Contrasts and The true Principles of Pointed Architecture.
In his Principles of Pointed Architecture Pugin wrote:
“The two great rules for design are these:
1st, that there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction or propriety.
2nd, that all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building.”
The instructions contained in Pointed architecture were in large part specific design principles for ornamenting architecture both in the elaboration of the building fabric and in the addition of artistic content. In advocating an ornamented architecture Pugin was advocating a return to an architecture that contained Catholic liturgical meaning after most aspects of the Catholic liturgy were banished for 300 years. First in the Reformation of Henry VIII then in the “enlightenment” and Revolution in France the Catholic church and religion had been systematically destroyed.
During the Puritan years Catholic ornament had become a particular target for the suppression of the Catholic liturgy and, the puritans and after them the French Revolutionaries stripped the saints and Doctors of the church from the walls.
Pugin began, after the Catholic Restoration act of 1829, to work on new designs for a Catholic architecture that would replace the Roman classical architecture of the Renaissance. Catholics of the day were still persecuted and viewed the dominant architecture as pagan based as it was on pagan temples and worship. But the Renaissance also had done much to simplify and remove liturgical information from the surface of buildings.
If ornament was to be returned to the church once more, Pugin said it would have to be integral. Pugin felt that ornament must be limited to elaboration of the structure what we today refer to as architectonic. This, he felt would bring life to the underlying building and avoid mere decoration, which might mask and confuse the underlying architecture of the building.
During his short working life he succeeded through his gothic revival in re-establishing gothic architecture as the language of religious building. Of course, the gothic revival faded to be replaced by other revivals until the rise of modernism just before the Second World War.
What happened to ornament? Why don’t we see it on buildings today?
After World War II with the rise and dominance of the modern movement, the architect was once again told to delete all ornament and with it we lost the hand of the crafter and artist. The new iconoclasm.
In the post modern era that followed the decline of the modern movement, we have seen the re-emergence of building arts and crafts and our work is part of that revival.
A Place for Art and Craft
We have continued the long-established practice within our firm of making space in the building for the work of arts and crafts. A void space is created and it becomes a place for an iconographic statement: a bas-relief or statue, a mural, iron hardware, custom designed marble furnishing sets, altar, ambo and Tabernacle throne, carved and moulded terminations and in wood, glass, paint and other new materials, symbols that add layers of meaning onto the framework provided by the building.
Adding iconography to the work is part of a process of design and partly a process of visualizing what the final result will be after the artist or crafter has added symbolic or representational meaning to an architectural element. Where in a Roman classical building a column represents a plant form, a lunette over the door at St John Neumann contains a scene that Father Dowling felt crystalized the relationship between the church and the parishioner.
Matthew 19:14. “Let the little children come to me…” This church is a pedagogical tool for the children in the parish school next door as well as for the adults of the parish who are reminded that like children they too need to come to God with an open heart.
The creation of space for iconography and symbolic meaning becomes one important source of inspiration for the design. In our buildings a column maybe has a representation of a biblical scene that is of vital importance to the liturgy and the life of the people. The artist and crafter, fashion parts of the building while adding a higher symbolic life.
During most of the history of humankind building projects have been the result of the work of many hands directed by the priest or religious and the artist and or architect/interior designer even the landscape designer gets into the act. The contribution and mark of the crafter also is there and is not seen to be a disfiguration but the seat of the iconographic conversation.
John Ruskin in his 1850 work The Stones of Venice made the argument that the maker and the making were inextricably intertwined. He further noted that the Gothic architects of Venice created for the glory of God. The gothic building was the book of Christianity written in stone. In gothic architecture as Ruskin saw it, the maker is not only the producer but also another worshipper, praying in stone or iron or wood or paint. Every part of the creation is infused with a unique and critical message. The message of a building is its soul.
The language of Architecture
In fact, even the modern architect who avoids religious architecture describes modern buildings with a language that is derived from spiritual references, Mies said: “God is in the Details”, Paolo Soleri titled one of his books: The Bridge between Matter and Spirit is Matter becoming Spirit.
Frank Lloyd Wright said: “Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.”; “Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”
But, “the Building does not matter” and the “God is nature”
We hear sometimes today that the building in which we worship doesn’t matter. What is important we are told, is the body of the faithful, the congregation, the worshipper wherever the worship takes place and that sounds good but in fact worship almost always takes place in a building. Further the building imparts much to the essence of worship.
In a recent essay in the Jesuit publication America Magazine the author described how on a visit to Rome, he came away feeling that a tree was more inspiring than the “grandiose” churches of Europe. Only Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia inspired him even in comparison to the great cathedrals.
Wright expounded a similar theme: “I believe in God, only I spell it nature.” “God is the great mysterious motivator of what we call nature, and it has often been said by philosophers that nature is the will of God. And I prefer to say that nature is the only body of God that we shall ever see.”
Nature is indeed very nice but it is not human worship and those who espouse the beauty of nature as more beautiful than the beauty of the Catholic Liturgy writ in ston risk losing the worshipper. Human kind finds great comfort in a familiar Liturgy and a Liturgical setting that contains reinforcing symbols and iconographic information. From the day of the Sacred Groves our civilization has made places of the spirit and of remembrance lest we forget in everyday life the values and spiritual knowledge we have gained. God, in a real sense dwells in these places. How can they not be about God, contain God, be where God lives.
And it was to make sure that God was not alive in the great cathedrals or Abbey churches that the Rationalists and Naturalists of the French Revolution demolished so many great churches. Glastonbury Abbey, Syon Abbey, Tintern, Rievaulx, Fountains, literally thousands of great foundations once homes for religious men and women, defiled, destroyed, desecrated, the occupants sometimes murdered, the great fabrics pulled down and the stone stolen away to build great houses for the new rich of the land.
Their spirit and the spirit of God is still present in these great places, in all of these abbeys, even when the remains are only a tiny sliver of their former greatness. This presence instills me with awe to this day.
Even when the bones that remain are only a few, only broken, only barely still there, they yet contain this power, this awe-inspiring presence, this inspiration, this infusion of the spirit. And we pick up their work where they had to lay it down, to do the same work, to pick up the same spade and dig enthusiastically.
Have you checked out Ethan's travel blog yet?
He has been posting beautiful blog posts once or twice a week of his adventures around France and will soon be updating to include his more recent research trip from this summer.
If you're traveling to France soon, whether for business or leisure, Ethan will point you to some of the best hotels and restaurants that France has to offer. He does all the research so you don't have to!
He points out the best tourist spots, and when to go to avoid the crowds. From the Roman Coliseum full of history, to the castle being built using only medieval tools, you won't want to waste a second.
And don't forget to stop along the way to eat lunch! And dinner. And snacks in between. Be sure to take lots of pictures, because the presentation is flawless but the food is so good it won't last long.
And if you're not traveling to France soon? This blog will absolutely change your mind.
On our way to Guedelon, we stopped for the night at La Closeraie Hotel in Sully-Sur-Loire. When we arrived, the sun was setting, and the castle looked spectacular.
In the morning, we packed up and continued towards Guedelon.
During the planning of our trip, we viewed the brief documentary on the Guedelon Project. Guedelon is a newly built castle using medieval methods and technology. It celebrates and preserves the methods of another era, just like Jamestown in Virginia, Sturbridge Village, and Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts.
Guedelon is distinguished by the fact that construction is ongoing and the partially completed building is there among the workshops of the craftspeople who are building it. Guedelon reportedly has had to slow construction recently to maintain the unfinished nature of the site which is so compelling to the visitor.
A number of things stood out to me during the visit:
First- the parking lots, massive and stretching out into the woods on all sides and full of cars. People from across Europe and the US were traveling to see this magnificent site. Apparently many more people than I thought have discovered this fascinating visit.
Second- the organization of the site and its orientation to the visitor. Everything seems to be planned around the onlookers; the café and restaurant, the facilities, the cart trails around the site, and the workshops with ongoing craft work everywhere.
The feel is close to what I had imagined it would be like to be on the construction site of a castle. The only thing I felt was missing was a more accurate sense of the reality that this is a first in military construction underway in an unforgiving world.
A few knights on horseback would help bring it home.
The overall sense is unpretentious and resistant to commercialization. Disney would most certainly not be welcome here, yet the books and other historical materials available for kids in Europe are generally far better than those in the US.
The craft work at Guedelon is first class. Stone and iron, ceramic, masonry, carpentry, basket making and so on.
There are also plenty of opportunities for a hands on taste for the young and the older. Luz could not resist the chance to carve a little stone...
To explore more posts, click here
My travel blog is now live and ready to view! Come check out some beautiful photographs of European architecture from my adventures around Europe. Also included are links to some favorite recipes, and travel tips for places to stay, eat, and explore!
The opening and dedication of Our Lady of Good Voyage Shrine in the Seaport District of Boston stretched over two events, the Dedication Mass on Saturday, April 22nd and the Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, May 21st, 2017.
Cardinal O'Malley greeted the assembled congregation which included Mayor Marty Walsh, Police Commissioner William Evans, Ambassador Ray Flynn and his wife and Seaport Square Developer, John Hynes Jr and his family.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley delivers his Homily to the congregation assembled for the Dedication Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Voyage.
- Jul 22, 2019 amazing progress at sisters of st. thomas aquinas new chapel and convent in brooksville, fl Jul 22, 2019
- Jul 3, 2019 Beautiful double rainbow over the site of the new st. thomas aquinas university parish in charlottesville, VA Jul 3, 2019
- May 31, 2019 St. thomas aquinas in Charlottesville, Va is starting to take shape! May 31, 2019
- May 22, 2019 View towards Altar at St. Timothy's in Winston-Salem, NC May 22, 2019
- May 20, 2019 James curl lecture night May 20, 2019
- May 1, 2019 Renderings for the new St. John Catholic Student Center May 1, 2019
- Apr 30, 2019 In Charlottesville, Virginia, the new St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish Church is taking shape! Apr 30, 2019
- Jan 3, 2019 The AIACM Award night November 17, 2018 had many highlights and deserving winners! Jan 3, 2019
- Nov 13, 2018 New article featuring Our lady of good voyage in Design Cost Data Nov/dec 2018 issue Nov 13, 2018
- Nov 9, 2018 a trip to italy to approve the carvings for St. thomas aquinas university parish in Charlottesville VA Nov 9, 2018
- Nov 8, 2018 Ethan's speech for the Catholic Art Guild Conference and Gala: 'Formed in Beauty' November 4, 2018 Nov 8, 2018
- Aug 10, 2018 Ruins & Rosemary Travel Blog Aug 10, 2018
- Dec 14, 2017 The Cram and Ferguson crew in Madison, WI Dec 14, 2017
- Dec 5, 2017 From Ruins and Rosemary Travel Blog Guedelon & Sully Sur Loire Dec 5, 2017
- Nov 21, 2017 Travel Blog Nov 21, 2017
- Jun 7, 2017 Our Lady of Good Voyage Dedicated Jun 7, 2017
- Dec 23, 2016 Our Lady of Good Voyage Nearing Completion Dec 23, 2016
- Jun 28, 2016 Addition; Chapel of the Holy Cross; Holderness School Jun 28, 2016
- Jun 28, 2016 On Imitation of Beauty Jun 28, 2016
- Mar 19, 2016 Creative Evolution of the design for St edward's chapel Mar 19, 2016
Natural light floods the Sanctuary where it will complement the stained glass windows relocated from another church in the Archdiocese. The ceiling soars high above the platform that will support the altar.
Christmas 2016 approaches and the cold outside is contrasted with the warmth inside the church where work is proceeding readying the church for dedication.
Our Design for a Program of additions to the 1887 Chapel of the Holy Cross at Holderness School, Holderness, New Hampshire envisions a major expansion of the existing chapel, originally designed by Charles Coolidge Haight, architect of the Episcopal Cathedral of Portland, Maine.
There currently is a need for twice the current seating capacity of the chapel and several schemes have been proposed in recent years for additions that would either add small bits and pieces to the sides of the existing building resulting in poor quality space or add an enormous modern glass pile thrusting out over the gully behind the existing building, dwarfing and minimizing the historic brick building.
Our plan adds the needed seating in a sympathetic addition that remains modest in scale and hard to distinguish from the existing building. This is consistent with our no trace left behind approach to sympathetic historic additions. Though the scope of the addition is ambitious the result is intended to leave the viewer wondering how the space was added and where the original building begins and ends.
This approach is antithetical to the modernist who uses feigned respect for the original as an excuse to add building elements that are totally out of character and in fact intended to establish the architect as the focal point and subject. Certain building owners lacking confidence in their own brand see a value in the branding of the building by the architect but this is a false value.
Architecture, the term, covers a lot of ground. From large to small, grand to diminutive, open to closed and good to bad. Although many will claim that there is no good or bad, no objective quality of beauty or ugliness, that beauty is after all in the eye of the beholder, this is a prevarication.
There is emphatically beauty and it is objective and outside of us. There are also markers of value that can seem beautiful because of their inherent meaning. Money seems 'good' because to have it is to have the potential of other things we can buy. Money in and of itself though is absent the quality of beauty or ugliness.
Because we want something we see the means to achieve it as beautiful and obstructions in our way as ugly. Perhaps in another situation that same obstruction might be beautiful. A river is beautiful for its wildness and power when we do not need to cross it in a hurry and the bridge is out.
Beauty in the creation of human hands also has inherent value. This is the reason we are inspired to imitate powerful works when we see them. Not only are we inspired to seek out the Divine in everyday objects and to incorporate them in our own work, others, on seeing the Divine in our work are inspired to imitate it in their own work.
When it is the Divine that is inspiring the imitation it must be tolerated for that is the way the Divine spirit propagates itself, through inspiration. Though it is disappointing that those who imitate us effectively rob us of one or more of the fruits of our labor, still the Divine mission is achieved and the effect of our work is doubled in that the reach is extended far beyond what we might have done by ourselves alone. And this is a Good Thing.
There is a special hell though for the thief in the night who has grown accustomed and rationalized the theft of the work of others, most especially the intellectual property of others. There are those who prefer to steal the work of the artist rather than to hire the artist. Perhaps there is an inherent evil in the approach or there is a fear of admitting that the other is a spiritual superior one needs to complete the journey.
Those who steal the work of the artist who labors for the love of humanity and spirituality are the most desperately lost spirits of all for it is impossible to steal the best qualities of a truly original work. It will always shine out its bright clear light of truth and the imitation will always look like what it is, a poor attempt at copying the external manifestations of the internal genius of truth in the great original work.
A work that is truly inspired by greatness is never a copy because the inspiration of the artist changes it internally and a new light of genius is revealed. And no copy can ever rise to greatness, at its best it is a good copy, at worst it is an imperfect copy. Neither are satisfactory food for the soul.
The creative evolution of the additions to St. Edward’s Chapel at the Casady School
The beginning of the additions to St. Edward’s Chapel was simple. The Donor who wishes to this day to remain anonymous, I will call him George, contacted me to inquire whether the firm that designed the chapel in 1944 still had the original drawings. I researched the firm archives and found that we did in fact have them and a meeting was arranged for me to visit with the informal committee George had assembled to work on the project he had in mind for the chapel.
Casady School, is a K-12 Episcopal Prep School founded by Bishop Casady of Oklahoma with 36 students in 1947. The chapel of St. Edward the Confessor was given by Frank Johnson Hightower as a memorial to his parents both of whom died tragically during his youth. George attended Casady during the time Hightower gave the chapel participated in a trip with Hightower and a group of Senior boys to England where the hand carved paneling that graces the interior of the chancel was purchased, disassembled and transported to Oklahoma where it was reassembled and installed in the chapel.
Hightower’s original vision for the chapel included a west wing that was to house a sacristy and vestry and offices for the chaplain and assistant chaplain. There was insufficient funding to complete his entire vision so a temporary wooden shed was built to house the sacristy and the mechanical equipment of the chapel. Years passed and a large modern stone addition was added behind the chapel that connected to the wooden shed and contained conference and bathroom facilities and offices which housed the clergy and other faculty including counseling and guidance functions. The addition named the Harper wing for its donor was of contemporary design, flat-roofed, semi-circular in plan clad in a stone that was meant to look related to the chapel but that does not.
George wanted to replace the temporary shed with a permanent addition that would look like part of the church and that would accommodate the program envisioned by Hightower. We began work on programming for a new sacristy and vestry with then Chaplain Reverend John Marlin and with the administration and other faculty members. The program evolved through our discussions to include a fully developed sacristy and a vestry for the student choir which averaged 20 members as well as two offices and a handicap accessible lavatory which the chapel did not have at the time.
In addition discussion of the actual use of the chapel revealed that it was heavily used by the music department as a concert venue and that the heaviest use was for the annual baccalaureate celebration in May. The school had grown very significantly from its founding to 865 students in 2010. The community had not fit in the chapel for years and the administration hoped to add some additional seating for baccalaureate. There was talk initially of using the original design sketch for the addition we found in our archive but the program discussions revealed a far larger program would be necessary and that it could not be accommodated entirely in a west wing due to the existence of the Harper Wing.
The program demanded that we think outside the limits of the initial program and I decided an East wing would be required to accommodate the two larger program requirements of a Green Room for musicians to warm up before their turn and the additional seating for Baccalaureate and special events such as concerts. To these functions were added two practice rooms for the music department and a handicap accessible bathroom and a wheelchair lift to provide wheelchair access to the altar platform. We had recently completed our renovations to the Chapel at Phillips Exeter academy, and a new chapel at the Canterbury School in Greensboro North Carolina where we also fit up both chapel to double as a worship space and as the principal recital space for the music program. This seemed to fit the program at Casady well.
The other major determinant of the form of the additions was my observation of the traffic flow of the students through the existing chapel. I was able to spend some time during several visits to the school watching the students arrive for morning chapel and leaving for class, also for choir practice and for other events that took place at the chapel during the day. In discussions of the program with George he indicated often the importance of the chapel to him as the spiritual center of the campus which now sprawls over 80 acres and 29 buildings occupying several square blocks along Britton Avenue in the Village a northern suburb of Oklahoma City. The campus had grown to be very large and the only sense of a center was provided by a five acre lake at the center. Though everyone knew the lake was there it was not possible to easily visualize the place of the chapel and the lake from other parts of the campus, especially when the trees had leaves.
The need was for a vertical element that could be seen from the remainder of the campus, a tower on the chapel of some sort would be just the thing. They had an electronic bell (a speaker actually) that sounded the hours but there was nowhere a visible building element. The solution to that sense of center was the addition of a tower to the church but how to do it? It would have been possible to add a tower to the west door but that would have changed the appearance of the original building so much it would effectively disappear and I knew that would not be acceptable to George or the school community because it would erase the memory of Bishop Casady and Frank Hightower’s contribution to the school. The solution was to add a bell tower to one of the wings leaving the original building undisturbed but contributing to and enhancing it.
The second major determinant was the pathways taken by students to and from chapel each morning. I wanted to find a way to incorporate the path into the building thus encouraging students to enter the building before actually entering the chapel to make the passage to and from chapel a more extended ritual passage that included a progression from profane to sacred space. This passage also had to include a wheelchair accessible ramp at the west end to make the sanctuary accessible from the parking lot and due to the lack of a narthex space it was necessary to transition from grade to the nave floor level on the east. The means to resolve all of the access and pathway difficulties was to add a cloister element along the south side of the chapel. This was also conceived initially as a green element because it would provide passive solar heating to the building. Accordingly the scheme included a south cloister that extended across both wings and included a ramp that rose from the parking lot 24” to the nave floor level.
The existing building was also carefully evaluated as part of the effort and it was found that the building needed significant work including improvements to the heating and electrical systems and a new roof. Once the program and schematic were completed the project was dormant for six years during the financial crisis and while additional funds were sought. Finally George restarted the project in 2009 and after waiting years had to complete both Design Development and Construction Documents in about half the usual time. When we finalized the design I realized that we had neglected to solve on element of the design and that was the face the building would present to lake. This was important because all of the major buildings on the lake had an entrance that faced the lake while the chapel faced Britton Blvd and the main ceremonial entrance gate. Still the chapel needed a face on the lake and I designed a large perpendicular Gothic window based loosely on St. George’s at Windsor. I chose this example because it is one of my favorite in Britain and I felt symbolized the Anglican orientation to their British heritage.
During the six year hiatus both the Bishop and Chaplain at the school had changed. The previous Bishop had not played a role in the chapel design but the new Bishop of Oklahoma, Dr. Edward J. Konieczny was an enthusiastic participant in design review meetings playing a large role in the design of the interior of the added wings. He chose the liturgical subject matter of the windows and influenced many other matters large and small throughout the building. Another major contributor to the design was Katie McClendon, Ms McClendon is a board member at Casady and her husband Aubrey is an alum. Katie is well acquainted with Gothic architecture and lived closely with it during her undergraduate years at Duke. She weighed in on many matters throughout the design and construction. Her largest contribution to the design was to strongly advocate for the cloister to be open instead of closed as I had originally conceived it. Her reasoning was that it would be a stronger design and more clearly expressed on the exterior if it was not glazed in. She also felt it need not be closed because of Oklahoma’s mild winters.
The loss of the passive solar function was negated as a determinant when the school moved to put all of the buildings around the lake on a geothermal heating and cooling system powered by the lake water. We did not seek LEED certification for the chapel due to the fact that the school was seeking it for the math building that was being constructed at the same time and had found that the LEED process added significant cost.
Nathan Sheldon, assistant head of School at Casady was my closest contact throughout the design development and construction of the addition. Nathan was always a great contributor to the design and construction. He was a fair-minded and thoughtful administrator ever conscious of his responsibility to the Board yet always willing to advocate for the best interests of the building and the school. What he did not know about the complexities of building our semi-medieval way he worked hard to learn and mastered quickly. He was a tireless advocate and remains a good friend.
Throughout the schematic design process I worked closely with George and Nancy Records. All of the initial design ideas were presented to them and passed their careful review. Their contributions were many and their love for the project and the school and their hometown were most important.
As with all our projects we began with a thorough and careful review of the program needs of the client. The program was translated into a design solution that grew organically from the program needs without undue influence from any preconceived notion or idea. The client trusted that we would respect the original building and not burden them with self-assertive ideas that called attention to themselves at the expense of the original. Along the way through a ten year long process involving dozens of individuals, all who weighed in with ideas and who were heard and included the design grew and changed to accommodate the best ideas we could find. The result is a building that fit in seamlessly, solved the clients program and spiritual needs and is a satisfying and beloved addition to the most important spiritual building on the campus. Today the bell tower rises above the trees where its roof and the carillon that resides there can be seen and heard across the entire campus. Baccalaureate and musical performances as well as an expanded choir are all accommodated and the building feels as though it has been there in its entirety from the beginning of the school.