This project won a 2016 AIA Small Projects Award. It originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of ARCHITECT.
Text by Edward Keegan, AIA
When the archdiocese of New Orleans decided to build a new chapel at St. Pius X parish, in the city’s Lake Vista subdivision, they weren’t looking to expand the 1963 church building, but rather to create a separate—and much smaller—space for quiet contemplation. So the team at local firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (EDR) set about designing a grace note: a 571-square-foot freestanding chapel and attached prayer garden that sit in the shadow of, but are not dwarfed by, the existing 13,850-square-foot church. In fact, the distinctive faceted geometry of the copper-roofed church influenced the new chapel’s sculpted form.
“How do we show appropriate respect for the architecture, but build something new that can carry its own weight?” EDR partner Mark Ripple, AIA, asked at the project’s inception. And especially when the mandate was for something so small and distinct: “A Eucharistic adoration chapel is a very specific Catholic design program,” Ripple says, meant for quiet reflection in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
The result is two volumes: An 8-foot-tall foyer that leads to a 18-foot-tall worship space in which “the tabernacle is unequivocally the focus,” project architect Christian Rodriguez, AIA, says. There’s not even a crucifix: The architects imply a cross form with canted white walls grazed by daylight from a side window.
The design fosters a sense of the intimate and eternal, with natural light entering from three sources—the tall, thin window to the left of the tabernacle, a clerestory above the worshipper’s heads, and a low window that gives a focused view to the outside. “You can see plants wiggle in the wind,” Rodriguez says. “It provides a bit of relief and a connection with nature.”
“Good church architecture encourages you to put the secular behind,” Ripple says. EDR’s chapel manages to achieve this goal by deftly creating a small structure that evokes the eternal through a compelling interplay of form and light, focusing the attention of the parish community upon the ineffable.