The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is honoring the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle, designed by Steven Holl Architects, with its Twenty-five Year Award.
AIA’s Twenty-five Year Award is conferred on a building that has set a precedent for the last 25-35 years and continues to set standards of excellence for its architectural design and significance.
The impetus for the chapel began in 1994 when Father William Sullivan implemented his plan to construct a new center for spiritual life at Seattle University. During the interview process, Steven Holl and his design team presented a lecture on the phenomenology of architecture, which the campus ministry embraced and connected to related writings by St. Ignatius. After receiving the commission, the saint’s teachings became a primary source of inspiration. The design team worked closely with the ministry and students to define the program throughout the design process and visited several important Ignatian sites in Barcelona and Rome.
In designing the chapel, the team settled on the metaphor of light as the divine spirit, featured in a quote by St. Ignatius, to serve as the guiding design concept. Within, light is sculpted through several volumes that protrude from the chapel roof, each of which aims to harness different qualities of light for one united ceremony. Its site formed a new quadrangle for the university’s campus, with green space to the north, west, and, in the future, east. Its rectangular plan was carefully tailored to define the campus space as well as the processional and gathering space within.
Each of the chapel’s light volumes supports fundamental elements of the Jesuit worship program. For instance, south-facing light corresponds with the procession, an essential component of mass, while city-facing northern light, corresponds with the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and the Jesuit tradition of community outreach. The different lights concept is further enhanced by the combination of pure colored lenses and fields of reflected color within each light volume.
The chapel’s overarching design concept of seven bottles of light contained within a stone box is also expressed through its tilt-up construction method. Its integral color tilt-up concrete slab offers a more direct and economical tectonic than stone veneer. At night, the key time for the university community to celebrate mass, the volumes all glow like-colored beacons that can be seen across the campus. On some occasions, for those constantly praying, the lights shine throughout the night. While the gathering of different lights concept framed the design, it is also emblematic of the university’s mission and the many nationalities of students who attend and gather under one roof. The contributions of those students were central to the design process, which delivered a design for the chapel that is simultaneously forward-looking and firmly rooted in the past.