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.