| 17 : 30 – 15 February 2019 |
St. Pius Chapel and Prayer Garden in Louisiana designed by Eskew+Dumez+Ripple honored with National Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Designed by Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, the project was designed as a quiet refuge and intimate sanctuary for sacred reflection and contemplation. It now serves as a quiet, sculptural addition to the serene landscape around the 1960’s built monumental church. The award-winning project is a contrast in respect to its scale as compared to the church but has similar form and material palette. The tall, angular shapes of the chapel seems like a sculpture with introspective interiors for worshippers within. The sculpted form allows natural light to trickle in from the ceiling, along the floor and the sacred tabernacle. The chapel is an apt illustration of sustainable design with appropriate use of glazing, surface materials and features for storm water management.
Side elevation of St. Pius Church and Chapel
From the Architects –
Designed as an intimate sanctuary for quiet, individual prayer, the new adoration chapel on St Pius campus is a subtle sculptural addition to landscape. In meetings prior to the start of design, congregants were clear that the new chapel should complement the formal character of the adjacent 1960’s church and its striking, monumentally-scaled copper roof. It rises in orchestrated planes from ground level to more than 75 feet above the church floor.
Sculpted form of the chapel located adjacent to the church
The new chapel is a delicately-placed, quiet counterpoint to adjacent church, contrasting in scale but similar in form and material. The tall, angled shape of chapel ties the building to its neighbor and creates a soaring space for worshippers within—a cathedral for one. The sculpted form is carefully carved on two sides and at the roof. This allows light to leak in from above the ceiling, along the floor, and sacred tabernacle.
Site plan – Location of chapel in respect to the church
Floor plan –
The configuration of the floor plan allows the visitor to enter into a small vestibule separated from the sanctuary. The partition is a slatted wood screen wall, affording privacy to worshippers already occupying the space. The space’s power is enhanced by its simplicity. The sculpted volume of white planes is activated throughout the day as sun washes across surfaces from different angles.
Floor plan – St. Pius Chapel and Prayer Garden
Even the Christian cross, adjacent to tabernacle, is expressed by grazing light rather than requiring an additional component in space. The material focus is placed on the custom wood tabernacle containing the Holy Eucharist. It draws the worshippers’ full attention to object of adoration in a space filled with divine, quiet light and absent of distraction.
Wooden screen and custom wood tabernacle
Participation of the Parishioners –
The Archdiocese of New Orleans selected Eskew+Dumez+Ripple for the design of the new adoration chapel. The new design was to replace a nondescript temporary chapel embedded in an existing building. As a truly community-driven, grass roots effort, this project was conceived and approved by the parishioners. They were able to fund the project with a robust capital campaign within the parish. During the planning phase, it was clear that the parishioners desired a significant improvement from the existing facility, to a space more suitable for sacred reflection and worship.
Favorite prayer spot for the parishioners
Evolution of design for St. Pius Chapel –
The initial concept developed by the parish advocated the physical connection of the new chapel to the existing rectory. It was in order to allow both the chapel and the rectory to share an existing brick patio and use it as a prayer garden. Eskew+Dumez+Ripple worked with the pastor to steer the design in a different direction, reorienting the new chapel adjacent to the church. Thus they created a new prayer garden, allowing intimate reflection in an exterior setting adjacent to the chapel. This represented a distinctly different approach to the project than what the client originally envisioned. But it was extremely well received by both the pastor and the parishioners.
White planes and bright light within the sacred place
“St Pius’s adoration chapel is my favorite prayer spot. It serves as my haven from the chaos of contemporary life. Both the quiet and the peaceful atmosphere allow me the opportunity to focus on God’s hand in my life. When I see others in the chapel with me, it always makes me smile at the thought that God is listening to each one of us as if we were alone. It many ways the chapel feels like home!” – Susie Veters, a parishioner.
Sustainable design of St. Pius Chapel –
Sustainable design features are incorporated throughout several key areas of the St. Pius Chapel and Prayer Garden. In particular, the elements of glass, light and water were taken into consideration to create an efficient building with low energy usage and minimal drainage issues.
Sectional elevation of the chapel
Intent of glazing –
In order to create a serene, solitary experience within the chapel, the design emphasizes quality rather than quantity of glazing. At three locations in the chapel, thin strips of glass allow modulated light to enter and glance off various surfaces to create a soft, indirect glow within the prayer area.
The intent was to use reflected light exclusively in order to activate the surfaces without overlighting the space. The resulting lighting condition requires no supplemental electric lighting and creates a calm, natural aura within the sculpted space. The additional advantage of this restrained use of glass is that the majority of the envelope is insulated given the very low window to wall ratio of 4%. (66 sf of glass) This helps in minimizing thermal gains in the hot humid climate.
Glazing at different locations let in natural light
Storm water management –
The prayer garden surface is precast concrete pavers laid on a deep layer of crushed stone serving as a retention basin for stormwater. All water collected on rectory’s roofs and lawn is shepherded through various gutters and slopes into crushed stone beneath prayer garden. It further holds a significant volume of runoff. Due to effective capacity of this basin, the site can handle all of its stormwater up to a 2.5” rain event. This is possible without overflowing into the city’s overtaxed stormwater drainage system.
Diagram showing storm water management
Materials used in St. Pius Chapel –
The minimalist material strategy avoids the use of non-essential materials. The Chapel’s envelope is cement plaster with accents of aluminum and glass. It inverts the material logic of the adjacent church structure whose large copper roof rests on concrete walls.
Low-VOC tiles and paint adorn the interiors
The interior is painted gypsum board with wood millwork and porcelain tile flooring. In selecting inherently low-VOC porcelain tile and low-VOC paint, we created a healthy interior environment for chapel visitors. The porcelain tile flooring also provides a durable surface with an inherently low life cycle impact compared to other resilient floor materials like vinyl or rubber.
Project details –
Project Name – St Pius Chapel & Prayer Garden
Location – 6666 Spanish Fort Blvd., New Orleans, Louisiana 70124, United States of America
Architect Firm – Eskew+Dumez+Ripple
Project type – Chapel, Garden, Religious architecture
MEP – Mazzetti Inc.
Structural Engineer – Robert A. Bouchon, Consulting Engineer, LLC
Civil Engineer – Robert A. Bouchon, Consulting Engineer, LLC
General Contractor – Voelkel McWilliams Construction, LLC
Completion Year – 2018
Photography Credits – © Will Crocker Photography, © Frank J. Methe