The Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle, designed by Steven Holl Architects, has been honored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) with its Twenty-five Year Award. AIA’s award is conferred on a building that has set a precedent, stood the test of time for 25 to 35 years and continues to set standards of excellence for its architectural design and significance. The Chapel of St. Ignatius finished in 1997, reflects the ideal of the Jesuit practice, a religious order of the Catholic Church, in which no single method of worship is prescribed. Instead, the sect recognizes that “different methods helped different people.” That idea is reflected in the Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle University’s main chapel, where differences in light unify to support the worship and ritual needs of the university community.
The project started from the initiative of Father William Sullivan in 1994, whose intention was to build a new center for spiritual life at the University of Seattle. Sullivan’s vision also prompted a new interpretation of Jesuit tradition. After receiving the commission, Steven Holl and his design team took the teachings of St. Ignatius as a primary source of inspiration. The team worked closely with the ministry and students to define the program throughout the design process and visited several 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, the light is filtered and sculpted through several volumes, or “bottles of light” in Steven Holl’s words, that protrude from the chapel roof. Each volume is constructed and oriented to emphasize different qualities of light, all united in the central space.
The light volumes represent fundamental elements of the Jesuit worship program. The south-facing light is associated with procession, an essential component of mass, while the north-facing light, also oriented toward the city, represents the Jesuit tradition of community outreach. This concept of uniting different lights is further enhanced by combining colored lenses and fields of reflected color within each volume. In addition, baffles within each volume oppose large windows, back-painted in bright colors so that only the reflected color can be seen within the chapel.
The chapel’s design concept, seven bottles of light contained within a stone box, was also expressed through its tilt-up construction method. The outer envelope was divided into 12 interlocking panels. This provided a more direct and economic tectonic. The large concrete slabs were laid flat on the ground and cured for 18 days before being lifted by a hydraulic crane into their final position.
While the gathering of different lights concept framed the design for its religious connotations, it is also symbolic 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.
For a project to qualify for the Twenty-five Year Award, the building must have been completed between 1988 and 1998, it must have been designed by a US-licenced architect at the time f the project’s completion, and it must be in a substantially completed form, in good condition and not fundamentally altered from its original intent. Past recipients include Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery by Venturi, Scott Brown, and Associates, Inc, Grand Louvre - Phase I by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and Gehry Residence in Santa Monica by Gehry Partners LLP.
The jury of the 2022 Twenty-five Year Award is comprised of:
- Susan Blomquist, AIA, Chair, Payette, Boston
- L. William Zahner, Zahner, Kansas City, Mo.
- Ana Astiazaran, AIAS, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.
- Dominique Hawkins, FAIA, Preservation Design Partnership, LLC, Philadelphia
- Eddie Jones, FAIA, Jones Studio, Tempe, Ariz.
- Gia Mainiero, AIA, Dattner Architects, New York
- Pierre Roberson, AIA, AECOM, Detroit
- Gail Kubik, Assoc. AIA, Finegold Alexander Architects, Salem, Mass.
- Heather Young, AIA, Heather Young Architects, Palo Alto, Calif.