Field Chapel in Boedigheim / Students of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology

© Brigida Gonzalez

Architects: Students of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, led by  Professor Frank Flury
Local architect: Ecker Architekten
Location: Boedigheim,
Client: Protestant Church of Bödigheim
Project year: 2009
Photographs: Robert Piotrowski, Dea Ecker, Klaus Hilger & John Ruffalo, Brigida Gonzalez
Website: Flurkapelle Buchen/Bödigheim
27 32 10 Reinforcing for Foundation 35

The Field Chapel is a project designed and executed by the students of an Advanced De-sign/Build Studio at the College of Architecture in Chicago for a ecumenical church co-operative in Boedigheim, Germany. Led by Professor Frank Flury, the project was assisted on a pro bono basis by the firm of Ecker Architekten (Buchen, Germany) with the craftsmen, volunteer workers and townspeople of the Odenwald/Bauland, a rural region in northern Baden-Württemberg.


The task of the design was to create a place of spirituality. Professor Flury defined the project for the twelve students who come from Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Tennessee and China, as “an interdenominational chapel, a space for people who are in a search for God – a place for quiet reflection, but also one that welcomes hikers and cyclists who appreciate a rest stop that has a sense of beauty. ”

01 Concept Sketch

Background and Participants

In January of 2008, the Reverend Moser-Feesche contacted Ecker Architekten with the intent to build a chapel. He had no funding, held no property, and did not have the support of his con-gregation. He did however, have a specific idea about what this building should be and where it should be located.

Dea Ecker received her Master degree in Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). Her long-time friend and former school colleague, Frank Flury, is a Professor at IIT, and teaches an Advanced Studio for Design-Build Projects at the College of Architecture in Chicago. After discussing the potential of a Design-Build project with the Reverend, Ms. Ecker contacted Prof. Flury. The project constellation seemed to fit. Flury’s studio has designed and built diverse projects in the U.S. that have had a positive social impact. This was the first viable possibility for the students at IIT to execute an international project.

20 IIT Design-Build Studio

In December of 2008, Prof. Flury visited Boedigheim to examine the site and to discuss the project with the Reverend. After this initial meeting project responsibilities were agreed upon: Flury would guide the design and construction of the building, Ecker Architekten would work with local officials and obtain necessary building permits, and Reverend Moser-Feesche would secure property rights and assemble the community for the volunteer work necessary to complete the project.

In January 2009 Flury introduced the project to the Design-Build curriculum and received an enthusiastic response. Over the next 3 months, 12 students developed three design alternatives. In March 2009, these projects were personally presented to the governing municipality of Buchen and the citizens of Boedigheim. A After lengthy discussions two projects were chosen for further development, with Prof. Flury ultimately responsible for the feasibility of a final proposal. Armed with a donation of lumber from the city of Buchen, the “Professor from Chi-cago” and the “Reverend with an idea” asked for the trust and help of the townspeople to realize the project. With commitments from the local blacksmith, carpenter, sawmill owner, and the farmer (whose field the chapel was to be built upon), the town of Boedigheim agreed to implement the project.

Tasks were subsequently delegated. Prof. Flury developed the design with his students to ensure completed construction in a single summer semester. From March through May, the Design-Build Studio and Ecker Architekten were in constant contact. E-mail, AutoCAD, and Skype teleconferencing were the tools used to translate a student project designed in an American university into a set of working documents that met or exceeded German construction standards. Dea Ecker contacted the local officials and prepared drawings to obtain the necessary permits in time for the groundbreaking scheduled for early June. The Reverend Moser-Feesche and the community were responsible for the acquisition of property rights and for the collection and coordination of accomodations for the students during the construction phase.

15 Routing the Columns

The student group arrived in Germany during the first week of June. Despite an unusually rainy summer, the project progressed smoothly. With the help of countless volunteers, the chapel was constructed in just 8 weeks. Over 400 people witnessed the official benediction on 25 July, 2009.


The ecumenical chapel stands on a hill between the villages of Boedigheim, Seckach and Großeicholzheim.

The structure is visible from afar but can only reached by foot or by bicycle via a steep country lane. The students developed outdoor facilities and space as a logical consequence of interaction: when arriving at the site, a narrow footpath leads between an existing hedge and the blank tower facade to a small gravel forecourt, which is bounded on 2 sides with massive benches made of local limestone. This forecourt represents the secular realm. A brick platform rises from this forecourt, upon which visitors enter a closed patio and ultimately the sanctuary. This platform traverses the profane to the divine.

© Brigida Gonzalez

Surrounded by 4 closed walls, views are limited to the sky and the tower, which encloses the chapel sanctuary. “The courtyard and chapel are situated in a sea of faith,” according to the students. “The Secular and the Sacred touch each other, they are connected with one another.”


From the onset of the project development, assembly details were designed to ensure the cha-pel could be completed by students without construction skills.

18 Scaffolding the Tower

The entire wooden structure was cut on a CNC machine according to the student’s drawings. The receiving slots in the four main columns of the tower for the louvers were subsequently hand routed. Not a single plank was sawn on site. The students developed the drawings in various CAD programs and produced the individual components with hand tools and computer-assisted machinery.

Aspects of Sustainability

The project is in the truest sense of the word sustainable:

The chapel design was based upon utilizing donated, renewable and local materials.

© Brigida Gonzalez

The wood comes from the municipal forests in Buchen and in Boedigheim and was dried and cut at the sawmill less than 2 km from the chapel site. The high sap content of Larch allowed a construction without any handling or weatherproofing of the wood surfaces. This surface will eventually weather to a silver-grey partina. Bricks used in paving the tower platform were left over from a nearby building site and donated to the project. The gravel used for the forecourt is dredged from the Main River, and Limestone blocks are quarried within walking distance from the chapel. All the components were either fabricated by the students in the carpenters’ shop or made by local craftsmen. With the exception of the steel used to in the fastening screws and column anchors, all materials come from locations within 40 km from the building site.

© Brigida Gonzalez

The Dematerialization of Traditional Construction

Apart from the architectural filigree of the tower enclosure, the building appears traditional in its construction. It has a simple shape, and is formally related to both the Biblical Temple of Solomon and to vernacular tobacco-drying barns still found in the region.

The entire wooden construction rests on 8 steel moment-frame anchors, which are sized to expose a thin gap between the massive brick platform and the timber structure. This articulated joint makes the heavy building appear to hover weightlessly above the ground plane. The 3-meter high building base seems monolithic, and the full-timber diagonal bracing that lends the structure its stiffness is hidden from view – initially by diagonal planking that is an integral part of the structural system, then ultimately by the 50 mm wood siding that clads the entire first level.

The base braces the entire construction, and allows the four main columns to cantilever verti-cally for the next six meters without additional bracing. Despite the massiveness of these col-umns, structural calculations indicate that the roof of the chapel could sway up to 5 cm in a 100-year storm.

23 Louver Detail

The 9-meter high chapel tower, as seen from the exterior, appears diaphanous and permeable. Louvers cladding the upper portion of the tower are mounted incrementally further from one another as they rise in relation to the solid, enveloping base. This calibration of enclosure makes the tower appear to be expanding in height, and results in an remarkable play of light and shadow as one moves around the building. A parabolic geometry appears though a moiré effect the louvers make when the tower is seen diagonally. This openness, however, is not perceptible from the interior of the chapel. From inside, the distance between the louvers appears to be identical, collapsing the perspective space. The volume of the tower appears as a completely closed volume – an introverted space of reflection and silence, occupied only by an ever-changing body of light. The distortion of perspective transforms the volume into an abstract body that is simultaneously intimate and limitless.


In many U.S. universities, an apprenticeship is not required for a diploma in Architecture. The pedagogical approach of the IIT Advanced Design/Build Studio attempts to connect the head and hand. The confrontation with the entire architectural process – from the design sketch to the ribbon-cutting ceremony – provides students with a practical experience that both parallels and contrasts their acquired academic knowledge.

The project has found positive resonance in the all of the participating municipalities. It has also achieved all desired goals. Diverse groups have collaborated to create something not possible separately. Cultural and religious differences were bridged, new friendships were forged, and a chapel was built.

Cite: "Field Chapel in Boedigheim / Students of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology" 15 Oct 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
  • tray_p

    Awesome! Congratulations to students involved! This is what architecture is TRULY about…Hard work, great design all for a spiritual cause!

    • Jeff

      It is nice to know students can see their work realized nowadays. But let’s be honest, the space and design is not “Awesome.” It is Okay. It isn’t that much spiritually uplifting either. I think you are too quick to congratulate them;probably not to let them down with a true comment.

      • Patrick

        I disagree with you Jeff. You might not prefer the style but I think the building has beautiful elements to it. The project must be read as a sum of it’s parts ie. low budget, tight timeframe, inexperienced labour force to understand and see how successful the space is. I say congratulations to those willing to guide such architecture and to students able to achieve such architecture.

      • Charlie

        Jeff… Truth requires facts, not opinions. Nobody is throwing truths around, only opinions. Your comment makes no sense.

        From what I can tell form the images, it seems like a very powerful creation of space inside and out. it seems to have a real presence about it on the site. The use of simple connections and a low material palate shows intelligent restraint in a time of flashy architecture. thanks for showing this project. I cant wait to visit.

  • Marko

    Quite nice work..good detailing on the surfaces and on the material changes it givea a swiss tuch to it.

  • Steele


  • studio_k

    thanks again to all the students involved on this project!

    jeffrey burke
    andrew clark
    carlie douglas
    seth ellsworth
    guanmin hao
    jeffrey johnson
    kevin kamien
    megan lawler
    joe luciani
    lexie manke
    julie masci
    james mellom
    milanko milesic
    john ruffolo
    qian zhao

    professor frank flury

  • kprince

    Fine example of international design and construction collaboration. A nice paradigm for future architectural endeavors that involve geographically remote designers meeting and building requisite structures for a local community.

    Big props to all.

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  • studioellsworth

    Congratulations guys! We’re on ArchDaily! The chapel turned out great!

    • archijeffrey

      I KNOW!!! Isnt this amazing!! im so proud of everyone!

  • Mackin

    Makes me proud to be an Alum. Great work.

  • Frank

    No offense, everyone. Honestly, I can only imagine it as an outdoor shower room or a public bath. I don’t really feel it as spiritual.

    But I do have to say, “Congrads to students who made it and everyone who helped them.” My comment is meant only conceptually.

  • z99

    lovely, fits well aesthetically with the context. this is something that will surely become more beautiful as the materials age

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  • zxb

    congratulations guys,special for Hao Guanming and Qianzhao!

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  • Trevdor

    I’m a student at IIT and was able to experience the full scale mock-up they made in the states before going over there to build the real thing. Even stuck inside one of our studio buildings, and without the roof on top, or the benches, or quality finished materials, the chapel holds a very surreal experience for the user. As soon as you enter you can feel the space is special. Out in the field it’s in, it must be an amazing experience. Yes, the aesthetic in the images lends itself to an outdoor bath house, but don’t doubt that they captured the experience they intended. :)

    • Frank

      I agree photographs can be deceiving. I got to be there to get the real sense of it. Good point.

  • Scott

    Way to go guys! Excellent design and craftsmanship.

  • fhs

    simple form

  • Mohammad Shaique uddin

    Congratulations to all the individuals responsible for this programme…amazing piece of architecture…

    Just one word for it…”WAAAOOOOWWWW”

    Sry guys…can’t open my mouth more than this

  • ricardo

    Great Photos by brigida.

  • andres

    good work .

  • { kat }

    this is one of the most simple yet beautiful pieces of architecture i have ever seen. i am very interested in “spiritual spaces” – be they specific to one religion or more as an environment for inward and outward reflection.

    my only “negative” comment on it would be that i wish you could see the sky looking upward whilst inside the building in the same way that you can see the sky through the tower on the outside – segmented but visually attainable. perhaps you can from a different angle, but from the center in that image you cannot. just a personal preference!

  • Chris Giattina

    Frank, Students and Town,
    Nice work. Congratulations. Keep it up.

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  • Lisa M. Horne


    The Chapel is absolutely breathtaking. The synergistic collaboration between yourself, Reverend Moser-Feesche, the other architects, and the college students is spectacular and borderline, unbelievable.

    I guess this journey was one of faith for the Reverend, and what a blessing for you to be sought after by your long-time friend, Dea Ecker.

    Granting people the option of connecting the “secular with the spiritual” through architecture, is an awesome task in and of itself. More important, the way the structure guides one eyes and presence towards the sky; God, a higher being other than self, is a wonderful idea for a chapel. A quiet, spacious space for communing with God.

    Frank, thank you very much for sharing your wonderful work. I feel honored to know you as a faculty member and am glad our paths have crossed.


    Lisa M. Horne

  • PS

    Really nice work. Stands out among other college student made projects.

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  • Sun

    brilliant simplicity,that’s what it has

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