March 09: bottles in a box

2012/03/09 § Leave a comment

During this month in 1997 the Chapel of St. Ignatius opened in Seattle.

The 6100 SF Jesuit chapel on the campus of Seattle University was designed by Steven Holl around a concept of “light bottles.”  The particular metaphor has always puzzled Clio a bit; shouldn’t light be poured out, rather than bottled up? But she gets the idea that the light comes through a vessel-like treatment.  A sophisticated collection of materials colors reflected and refracted light in a way that it is ever-changing throughout the day, the seasons, the year.  The effect is bracing, even without foreknowledge of the extent to which Holl went to shape the funky roof pieces, which peek over a relatively simple box, so that they capture light from all directions, each one serving a particular part of the liturgy (south light for the procession, north light for a chapel, and so on).

The Jesuits appreciate the symbolism as tied to their founder, St. Ignatius, and his ideas of inner lights and darknesses in the spiritual life; the cardinal references relates to a more general ideal of service by people of faith to reach into the world in all directions.  More profound, however, is the experience of the interior.  It is a rare and powerful achievement for a modernist building to achieve the richness of a Baroque chapel–revealing that the simplicity of Holl’s architecture is, in this case, by no means simplistic.  His references to the emotional qualities that can be inspired by light and color, the play of dynamic against straightforward shapes, key into longstanding traditions of architecture for Christian worship, beautifully and movingly transferred into contemporary design.

comprehensive gallery of images available here

image: Holl’s light bottle concept (from this site)

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You are currently reading March 09: bottles in a box at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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