Saint John’s Abbey / VJAA

© Paul Crosby
© Paul Crosby

Architects: VJAA
Location: Collegeville, Minnesota,
Client: Saint John’s Abbey
Constructed area: 17.4 sqm
Project year: 2008
Photographs: © Paul Crosby

© Paul Crosby
© Paul Crosby

Petter’s Pavilion

The Abbey Church complex, designed by Marcel Breuer in the 1950’s, is considered one of the most significant works completed by the Bauhaus architect. The complex includes an Upper and Lower Church and monastic Chapter House, whose main entrance was discretely located along the monastery’s primary circulation route. The monastic community requested that the renovated Chapter House and new Blessed Sacrament Chapel be more open to the public and that the facility be more comfortable to use. The new 9,200 square foot project includes the renovation of the existing Chapter House, along with a two-level lobby addition, and full renovation of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

© Paul Crosby
© Paul Crosby

A number of functional program, circulation, and accessibility issues needed to be resolved within the small addition and rigid existing concrete structure of the existing Chapter House. The addition creates a new accessible entry and connection to the Upper Church and a new lobby and entrance for the renovated Chapter House directly from the parking area. The addition’s elevator provides access to the Lower Church for wheelchairs and funerals as well as access to the new restrooms, art gallery, bride’s room, groom’s room, and staging area for catering. A new tunnel connection from the addition to the thirty-room Guesthouse provides accessible circulation and a heated, sheltered route in inclement weather.

To blend with the existing building, the addition was clad in the same primary materials with a blend of new and reused local granite on the exterior and with red waterstruck brick flooring in a herringbone pattern on the interior. The new stair uses delicate lattice-like steel railings to bring light to the lower level of the addition. The project seamlessly connects new and old – respectfully expanding on Breuer’s work.

Blessed Sacrament Chapel

chapel floor plan
chapel floor plan

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel renovation reconfigures a space adjacent to the main Abbey Church that had originally been designed as an ordinary office space with a primary view into an adjacent courtyard. The challenge was to design a new chapel for devotional prayer and connect it directly to the church. The chapel space is focused on a modern re-interpretation of the 14th century reredos wall (an ornamental panel) that holds the tabernacle. Designed to shield the view of an existing window, the wall diffuses natural light into the space. To connect the new chapel to the main church, two simple openings were made in the existing concrete wall – one for the sanctuary lamp and one for the entrance. Platinum leaf is used on the ceiling to distribute light and echo Breuer’s discreet use of precious metals in the Abbey Church.

Cite: "Saint John’s Abbey / VJAA" 16 Oct 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 Nov 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=37723>