Stern Announces New Chapel Design
The design of a sacred space is one of the greatest honors for any architect, said Robert A.M. Stern October 2 at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. The event was the introduction of the Chapel for the Ages, a replacement for the 1881 chapel at the Episcopalian seminary eponymous with Seminary Road in Alexandria. Burned in 2010, the chapel ruins remain the heart of a campus that Stern called “an icon to spirituality.”
The lecture, part of a series sponsored by the seminary’s Kreitler Environmental Fund named after the Reverend Peter Kreitler (VTS ’69) who has served as the VTS Minister of the Environment since 1990. Kreitler was on hand to introduce Stern to a packed auditorium during the seminary’s annual alumni convocation. Ordained five days after Earth Day in 1970, Kreitler sees, as a large part of his mission in divinity to “keep the story going,” he said. “Divinity is in the totality of creation,” he explained.
In the derivation of the form for the new chapel, the design team researched both Virginian and church architecture and beyond, reaching back to Jeffersonian classicism as well as the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Christ Church in Alexandria, the First Church of Christ Scientist by Bernard Maybeck, the Pantheon, and Sir John Soane’s Bank of England.
It was the analysis of the Latin and Greek crosses and programmatic complexity of church design today that led to the plan the design team selected, Stern said. Not a person of computers, he depends on meticulous model construction, he said. “I stick my head in there to test out how the light and shadow work,” he continued. “We’re not finished with our work. We are absolutely in the middle of it.”
Nonetheless, Stern said, the client asked for a sketch, and they made one. Now they are all around the campus, he said. “So I’d better deliver.”
Fielding questions at the end of his presentation, in which there was a particular interest in the fidelity of the design to the chapel’s purpose and overall experience, Stern confirmed the importance the design team gave to music. “We’re using the magic technology of today,” he said. “It’s going to work.”
VTS Dean and President The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, PhD, further confirmed the importance in preliminary design discussions of the arrangement of the baptismal font, Eucharist, and altar. Flexibility to accommodate future needs, Stern concurred. He also mentioned that the team will be pursuing LEED Gold certification.
An immediate question from the audience: “Have you considered LEED Platinum?”
“Not until you just brought that up,” Stern smiled in conclusion.
Both Stern and landscape architect for the Chapel for the Ages project, Michael Vergason, received the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, in ceremonies later in the VTS convocation program.