pelli clark pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisiana
original content
apr 08, 2013
pelli clark pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisiana


‘st. katharine drexel chapel at xavier university of louisiana’ by pelli clark pelli architects, new orleans, louisiana
all images courtesy of pelli clark pelli architects / xavier university of louisiana

 

 

 

named for the canonized founder of the university, the st.katharine drexel chapel is an architecture that exceeds the specific programming
required of a house of worship and expresses the essence of an institute as a whole. the pelli clark pelli design is located on the site of mother
katharine drexel’s original plan for the xavier university campus, founded as a coeducational school in 1915 to be the capstone of an
educational system for black and american indian students. while the schools were open to people of all faiths, they were established despite
strong opposition and long before the mid-century fight for racial equality. xavier university continues its goal in serving the african american
catholic community, having the unique distinction of the only both historically black and catholic college in the nation. the geometric chapel
stands at the former location of the student center, lost in the wake of hurricane katrina. the spiritual heart of the campus is now characterized by
a 20 meter tall volume that seats 430 worshippers. the whole structure is raised 1.2 meters above grade and prioritizes approach, using a 300 meter
sloping processional plane to a divided narthex.

 

 

 

view of the sloped processional walkway to the chapel entrance
image courtesy of pelli clark pelli architects

 

 

bright portuguese limestone contrast with the roof’s copper cladding
image courtesy of pelli clark pelli architects

 

 

limestone is grouted with the same pattern as st.katharine’s tomb, while copper cladding is expected to take on a rich patina
image courtesy of pelli clark pelli architects

 

 

the octagonally planned structure is expressed with a angled roof form that admits ample natural light
image courtesy of pelli clark pelli architects

 

 

interior views of the non-hierarchical altar space below the dome’s aperture
image courtesy of pelli clark pelli architects

 

 

a perforated chancel screen diffuses natural light in the altar space
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

a 12 foot tall christ sculpture completes the main worship space
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

rings of skylights are partially concealed by a aluminum screen
image courtesy of pelli clark pelli architects

 

 

the building expresses the austerity of the enterprising nun in its material palette. a portuguese limestone base is topped by a copper roof in
keeping with the architectonics of the existing campus. the copper sheathing is expected to take on a rich green patina that changes over time and
makes the weathered exterior continually dynamic. walls, built with the same masonry technique of the tomb of st.katharine, grow in height as
they wrap around the altar, giving the space a sense of lift. in plan, the pared down octagonal form references ancient eight-sided churches and
helps create a non-hierarchical sacred space. the front and back walls  of the roof are parallelograms while three side planes crease and divide the
quadrilaterals into triangles. in addition to referencing the holy trinity, the effect is that of a rising roof and serves the dual function of allowing
skylight to bathe interiors with light. a chancel screen continues the conceptual trope of divine light to the chapel’s interiors; a variously perforated
metal screen creates a diaphanous inner skin while low ceiling ambulatories contrast with the buoyant-looking faceted dome. cuban artist jose bedia
designed the stained-glass program of the stations of the cross, using single line drawings, abstracted bodies and an intense, complimentary palette of
blue and yellow to illustrate the catholic narrative in 14 full-sized windows. a small octagonal side chapel is modeled after the pelli clark pelli design for
the catholic center at yale university. located beneath the bell tower, a pattern of colorful square windows that delivers indirect light into the more
intimate meditation space. the axially aligned sacred spaces have a distinct sculptural presence on campus, but pay tribute to the ascetic sensibility and
restraint of st. katharine’s philosophy to create a spiritual respite on the landscape.

 

 

a view of the ancillary meditation chapel
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

stained glass programming was part of the spiritual and architectural effort
image courtesy of pelli clark pelli architects

 

 

cuban artist jose bedia designed 14 windows depicting the stations of the cross
image courtesy of pelli clark pelli architects

 

 

construction views of the above-grade foundation level and premilinary structure
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

construction view of the early volumes
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

construction views of the angled roof
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

construction view of inner cladding
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

construction view of the early copper exterior cladding
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

floor plan level 0
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

(left): long section
(right): short section
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

water color of the proposed space
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

watercolored view of the approach
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

model
image courtesy of xavier university of louisiana

 

 

project info:

 

 

location: new orleans, louisiana, usa

local architect: waggoner and ball architects

area: 1000 square meters

year of completion: 2012

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