A seminal religious commission from one of Washington State’s native sons, the Steven Holl-envisioned Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle, has been awarded the AIA Twenty-five Year Award in recognition of its design excellence and continued presence on the visual landscape of the Emerald City.
Designed around the Spanish Jesuit’s teachings and the central metaphor of “light as the divine spirit,” Holl’s somewhat diminutive 6,100-square-foot chapel was received as a “convincing evidence of his sense of detail, thoughtfulness about space and light, uses of materials to affect mood, sensitivity to the functions of a building, and a powerful respect for spiritual discovery” shortly after its completion in 1997. It is the only religious project completed by the architect to date.
Holl won the commission for the project after delivering a lecture on phenomenology and architecture at Seattle University in 1994. It was designed in collaboration with students from the university, enhanced by an adjacent processional area and "thinking field" reflecting pool, and defined by a “seven bottles of light within a stone box” concept that was delivered through a tilt-up construction method. Today it stands as the primary place of worship for the school’s 7,400-strong undergraduate population.
Per the AIA’s inscription: “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.”
Recent past recipients of the AIA Twenty-Five Year Award have included Eric Owen Moss’ Conjunctive Points – The New City, Venturi, Scott Brown’s original Sainsbury Wing redesign for the National Gallery, and SOM’s Broadgate Exchange House from 1990. (No award was given in the 2018 cycle.)
Holl's design will join former AIA Gold Medalist E. Fey Jones' Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas, the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado, and Eero Saarinen's Christ Lutheran Church in Minnesota as the only religious projects to be honored in the award's now 53-year history.
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