Modern but Distinctly Catholic

This chapel is adjacent to a Catholic high school. The chapel was designed in the same institutional style as the classrooms and there are few distinctions between an auditorium and this space. To have a chapel at a Catholic school is a great benefit to the students and the school environment, a beautiful chapel is an even greater benefit. Young people need proper direction and the high school years are the formative years of a person’s life, a chapel should provide inspiration and beauty for the students. The space should not be dreary but intriguing, the interior of the chapel should elevate what the students are learning about in their religion classes, the imagery within the space should captivate the students and direct their minds to truth, beauty and goodness. The architecture is not befitting to a chapel and without the large cross in the center, you would not know the purpose of the space. Young people are surrounded by distractions with the increase of technology, the simplistic mentality of isolating the mind by stripping the surroundings of decoration and beauty is not effective. We are visual beings and we all need imagery to guide our thoughts, especially regarding religion.

The tabernacle is cast to the side, on a dim lit wall outside the sanctuary and the Eucharistic candle is nowhere to be found. The focus of the space is distorted. The tongue and groove, lapboard walls and ski lodge seating provide dismal distractions to an otherwise empty space. There is natural light descending on the sanctuary space from a window above the altar. It is important to understand the design of the ceiling pattern. The ceiling cuts off the back wall of the sanctuary, if one were to stand at the foot of the sanctuary space, they would be able to see the window in the ceiling and the wall extending beyond the visual that this photograph offers. The iconography is out of place and the statues do not carry the proper ecclesiastical purpose for which they are intended. The chapel lacks opportunity to focus on prayer and adoration but has opportunity for beautification.

In working with the school leadership, we learned that the chapel is often used as an alternative lecture space. The utilitarian nature off the space is so uninspiring that the architecture and design do not demand the reverence that is appropriate to a sacred space. From a liturgical point of view we wanted to visually inspire the visitors with beautiful artwork honoring Catholicism. We were inspired by gallery space and the way modern architecture compliments classical artwork. The chapel itself would become a visual education on beauty through sacred stories.

In our new design darkens the floor and the chairs so they are dismissed by the viewer and the attention is drawn to more elaborate and important elements of design. The tabernacle is placed in its proper place, at the center of the sanctuary and a large renaissance styled painting fills the once plain white wall. The contrast of simplicity and complexity gives nod to the architectural design of the chapel while providing stimulating subject matter for the view. The stairs of the painting are designed to incorporate the tabernacle allowing the eye to focus center and travel up to the elaborate painting. To the left a simulation of stain glass incorporates the colors and designs from the back of the chapel in order to develop a cohesive design. Ideally the altars of sacrifice and reservation as well as the ambo would be carved out of cippolino marble in a sleek, modern style. The floor in the sanctuary, designed with white Carrera marble, offset the gray finishings and symbolize purity and sanctity. The simplicity of these designs, like the floor and the chairs, intend to redirect the attention to the more important items in the chapel: the tabernacle and the paintings.

The intention with this design was to transport the individual from the utilitarian setting to a space that focused on Christ and provided inspiration through artwork. The amenities at high schools are very important to prospective students and their parents. Touring the school parents might ask about the quality of the football fields or the technology in the science labs but at a Catholic school with a beautiful chapel doesn’t often make the list of questions because almost all chapels at Catholic schools are ugly. If a school is already distinct in the sense that it is Catholic why not honor the tradition of the Faith and beautify that which makes the education unique and gives the school identity.