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The metaphor of a tent, which symbolizes the long history of pilgrimage within the Judeo-Christian tradition, is given a contemporary interpretation on campus

Sacred Heart University Chapel

Sacred Heart University
Fairfield, CT
18,500 SF, 1.6 acres
©Robert Benson Photography, ©Sacred Heart University
Additional Services
Civil Engineering
Interior Design
Landscape Architecture
Planning and Urban Design
Completed December 2009
Society for Environmental Graphic Design, Merit Award
American Institute of Architects New England, Honor Award

Working closely with Sacred Heart’s leadership, Sasaki undertook a comprehensive master plan to address the social, spiritual, and physical needs of the students at the university. The plan evaluates existing facilities, establishes strategies for future needs, and elevates the quality of the 69-acre campus environment functionally and aesthetically. Upon completion of the master planning effort, Sasaki was asked to design the new chapel for the campus—the first building to be implemented from the plan. The chapel is sited at a crossroads of campus on a new main quadrangle. The chapel and quadrangle have become the heart of the campus both physically and symbolically.

Sasaki’s chapel design is inspired by the metaphor of a tent, which symbolizes the long history of pilgrimage within Christian and Jewish traditions. The architectural solution emphasizes integration and diversity through the juxtaposition of both contemporary and traditional materials and forms. The copper envelope is deployed as both roof and walls, embracing both the main altar and the daily chapel. In contrast, the north wall of the main sanctuary, clad in natural limestone, is designed as a series of folds that bring natural light into the chapel, allow for vistas to and from the green, and accommodate inscriptions that inspired the design.

At the main façade, extensive use of glass emphasizes openness and transparency as a welcoming gesture to the community. The narthex accommodates ceremonies and provides overflow space from the sanctuary with a series of glass pivoting panels. Solid walnut chairs and pews outfit the main sanctuary and bring warmth to the space. The simple, white interiors of the main sanctuary provide a quiet background for the stunning mural by renowned artist Rev. Marko Ivan Rupnik.

The intimate daily chapel is accessed from the narthex and houses the tabernacle, an altar, and seating for 40. It also contains the reconciliation room, a place of prayer and contemplation which benefits from natural light from the exterior while preserving a sense of privacy. The daily chapel’s entrance is framed in glass, making it a welcoming space and providing great visibility of the Blessed Sacrament from the main entry and the narthex.

To complement the chapel, Sasaki designed a series of distinct open spaces and contemplative gardens that accommodate formal events and informal gatherings. The main outdoor plaza serves as primary chapel entry and as raised court anchored by the 80-foot-high stone campanile and bell tower. This court folds down with wide stairs to the main quadrangle, forming a podium for large exterior ceremonies and graduation. Adjacent to and serving the transparent narthex, a rectangular pea stone court features a grove of fruit trees, which provide a canopy for a series of sculptural benches and create a place of repose along a major campus intersection. On the west façade, a private court enclosed by a stone wall offers a more contemplative, cloister-like space connected to the chapel altar by a transparent wall.

For more information contact Vinicius Gorgati.

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