Mod dog lives loudly here

Chapel of St. Ignatius, by Steven Holl Architects, on campus of Seattle University. (AIA)

The chapel above has just received the 25 Year Award for 2022, bestowed each year by the American Institute of Architects for the building that, according to the AIA, “sets a precedent” and “has stood the test of time for 25-35 years.” Completed in 1997 by Steven Holl Architects, St. Ignatius, on the campus of Seattle University, just made it under the wire.

Wow. It has survived for 25 years, setting precedent and shedding enlightenment for the full extent of two and a half decades. The test of time. What a marvel.

Most buildings erected in the pre-modernist history of architecture were expected to last a century or more, and have often lasted for many centuries, as have many of that era’s most beautiful and ambitious buildings, especially of a religious turn. Notable cathedrals, for example, were erected up to a thousand years ago by builders without the benefit of today’s technology, or maybe it would be more accurate to say without the burden of today’s technology.

Take a close look at the photograph of St. Ignatius. No disrespect to him. He had nothing to do with it (whatever the designers may say). But it is nothing more than a shed with some bright lights coming from windows on its roof.

According to Holl Architects:

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.

Unprecedented? Why would a church choose “the metaphor of light as the divine spirit”? Hasn’t that been done before? Modernism pretends to eschew design cliché, yet the only claim to precedence here is of unprecedented ugliness – St. Ignatius (or, to be fair, Holl) “sculpts” light in various awkward shapes on the roof: The AIA press release describing the Holl design reads:

[S]even 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.

This passage shows that the dogma of modern architecture lives loudly within this chapel. The rest of the press release places you waist deep in the modernist metaphorical fog. If only for its clear modernist intellectual tomfoolery, the Chapel of St. Ignatius deserves this AIA award.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Mod dog lives loudly here

  1. Michael Behrendt says:

    Such architect-speak bullshit. Harnessing and metaphor and sculpting. Just bullshit. It is an ugly ass building with very little interest. That is the bottom line.


  2. John the First says:

    During the democracy every generation comes with its own reasons for destruction of tradition, which consequently in time will be legitimized by the elder (the destroyers becoming of age), and become part of the democratic propaganda canon of history writing. In that respect, as the destruction accelerates ever more, as the younger generations of puppets of democratic destruction are already taught at an increasing young age how to revolt, standing the test of time for two and a half a decade is indeed quite an accomplishment.


  3. LazyReader says:

    pee wees playhouse… Oh and the two nature bandaids of the rock to represent…rocks. And a perfect square of dead grass. No one took into consideration how much time it took to take care of plants in an isolated setting.


  4. Takuan Soho says:

    It looks as if one could push down those “windows” on the roof and end up with a rectangular box, which is all this building truly is. And yet, oddly enough, it deserves this award because I can’t think of anything better built in the 70s.


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