A Proposed University Chapel Design from McCrery Architects

McCrery Architects, based out of Washington, D.C., recently shared with LAJ news of a design project which they did in 2016 in relation to a proposed chapel design for the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio (a design which, while never implemented, is worth exploring all the same). From the architect:
This Chapel is designed to meet the needs of a growing and flourishing student body, by doubling in seating capacity to 600, with the potential to hold 1000, and by providing a beautiful chapel to foster the richness of the spiritual life on campus. The design is inspired by and participates in the tremendously rich Romanesque artistic and architectural tradition. It draws from architectural forms that Saint Francis knew in the Umbrian countryside... Appended to the chapel's overall cross-shaped form are various necessary components: two sacristies, a bell tower, a stair tower, and two further entrance vestibules. Each of these, along with a lower level arcade that opens to the ground level on the North side, assist in marrying the chapel to its landscape. The chapel's significance is further indicated by a tower at the crossing, surmounted by a circular drum and capped by a conical roof. This three-dimensional composition arrays the faithful within a traditional form and orients them heavenward. In this sense, the chapel is a physical realization of the university's mission at the very heart of campus.
McCrery provides some conceptual drawings of the facade on their website, but my intention is to focus on the interior. What I am particularly pleased to see in this particular instance is the ongoing revival in the use of the ciborium magnum in relation to the altar. Not only is this venerable piece of liturgical furniture entirely traditional, it was also one of the very best revivals of the twentieth century Liturgical Movement and, what's more, is especially suited as a solution in an era where free-standing altars are preferred, allowing for the freedom to circumnavigate the altar and present it as a distinct symbol on the one hand, while not losing the all important aspect of its prominence and verticality on the other -- which is a significant problem in the way most freestanding altars have been approached since the 1960's. 

This particular ciborium, as drawn at least, has echoes of that found within the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan and constitutes an earlier medieval approach. 

Visible in the above conceptualization is an open-trussed, timber roof of the sort one frequently sees in classical basilica models as well as a nave lined by Corinthian columns. 

The general plan of the church is that of a cruciform basilica.

Of course, the sanctuary arrangement itself always bears a closer look and is generally the area of most general niterest:

First, it would appear that the altar is fittingly set upon a predella -- an important and often neglected aspect in contemporary designs which is a subject we have spoken on before in our article, The Neglected Predella: Its Importance for Altar Arrangements.

As well, we see that the sedilia for the sacred ministers has been positioned in the traditional way, facing toward the altar rather than the nave. This positioning makes clear that the focus of everyone, from the people in the nave to the clerics in the presbytery, is not upon one another, but rather fixed upon the altar and the Holy Sacrifice. While we are on the subject of the presbytery, it is also a delight to see that traditional apsidal seating has been included as well. 

A permanent ambo and lectern have likewise been included, as has an altar rail -- which, whether used or not for the distribution of communion, adds nobility to the altar and sanctuary by accentuating it as distinct from the rest of the church, just as the altar itself is separated in another way from the rest of the presbytery by the predella and ciborium magnum

Finally we must point out that that a bit of counter-reformation piety and theology has been included in the sanctuary in the form of a central tabernacle located at the back of the apse behind the high altar -- which is certainly appropriate for a non-cathedral setting such as this. 

All around, a very appealing design.

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