The design competition for the University of North Florida Interfaith Chapel sought designs for a non-denominational facility to host meetings, meditations, weddings, and other intimate events. OAD concluded that the main challenge of the competition was to create more than just an impressive chapel but a place in and of itself that would highlight the unique character and seclusion of the site. The team's response engages visitors by encouraging unscripted exploration and discovery, gradually revealing the site, chapel, and accessory buildings as the user experience unfolds.
Situated in a remote corner of the busy outer-Jacksonville campus, the site commands an elevated peninsula on a small lake. Encircled by a ring of protective pine trees, the area enjoys a unique moment of seclusion amid the otherwise bustling campus, despite being located at a major vehicular entry point. The secluded nature of the site could be considered a disadvantage in connecting with the public and students who, without other cues would remain oblivious to the facility's existence. To remove the encircling foliage and reveal the site, however, would destroy its beauty, tranquility, and seclusion.
OAD's site strategy creates a narrative of revealing wherein a series of markers and monuments connect with users on different scales while still maintaining a secluded and protected domain. A spire monument pierces the dense ring of trees, rising above the canopy to a height that is visible from the adjacent roadway and beyond. The only visible element from the exterior of the site, the spire does not reveal the full nature of the place but simply and elegantly announces its presence, an invitation to explore further. The next marker, at the entry to the site, is the first of several follies - outdoor pavilions, lookouts, platforms, and sculptures that highlight certain aspects of the site or encourage moments of pause and reflection. Orienting visitors arriving by car, the entry structure leads them to an administrative office. From this point, a network of paths traverse the site, surrounding a central lawn for outdoor functions. While a primary path is provided, the experience is non-linear, and several sub-paths divert to follies or provide alternate routes across the site, inviting visitors to investigate the tranquil landscape or enjoy the impressive lake views.
The path finally culminates as the main chapel structure is gradually revealed through the trees. It stretches out over the pond where, by removing only a few sections of the natural foliage, views of the water and surrounding tree cover are enjoyed. This provides not only a perch from which to appreciate the site but also a momentous backdrop for events such as weddings and spiritual gatherings. A pure expression of upward focus and reverence, the chapel is framed by mutually supporting steel buttresses that penetrate a central glass skylight, bathing the hall in light. Spacious outdoor spaces flank each end of the chapel providing a covered entry lobby where visitors can congregate before and after events, and a veranda from whence to appreciate the peacefully secluded lagoon. The dressing areas, restrooms, and service functions are located in an adjacent cluster of buildings that are oriented to create a smaller, secondary space of congregation and preparation.