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

pelli clarke pelli architects st katharine chapel xavier university designboomview of the sloped processional walkway to the chapel entrance 

 

 

 

 

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.

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianabright portuguese limestone contrast with the roof’s copper cladding 

 

 

 

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. 

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianalimestone is grouted with the same pattern as st.katharine’s tomb, while copper cladding is expected to take on a rich patina 

 

 

 

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.

pelli clarke pelli architects st katharine chapel xavier university designboomthe octagonally planned structure is expressed with a angled roof form that admits ample natural light 

 

 

 

a small octagonal side chapel is modeled after the pelli clarke 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.

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianainterior views of the non-hierarchical altar space below the dome’s aperture 

pelli clarke pelli architects st katharine chapel xavier university designbooma perforated chancel screen diffuses natural light in the altar space  

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianaa 12 foot tall christ sculpture completes the main worship space 

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianarings of skylights are partially concealed by a aluminum screen 

pelli clarke pelli architects st katharine chapel xavier university designbooma view of the ancillary meditation chapel  

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianastained glass programming was part of the spiritual and architectural effort 

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianacuban artist jose bedia designed 14 windows depicting the stations of the cross

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisiana

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianaconstruction views of the above-grade foundation level and premilinary structure

pelli clarke pelli architects st katharine chapel xavier university designboomconstruction view of the early volumes

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianaconstruction views of the angled roof 

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianaconstruction view of inner cladding 

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianaconstruction view of the early copper exterior cladding 

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisiana

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianafloor plan level 0

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisiana(left): long section, (right): short section 

pelli clarke pelli architects st katharine chapel xavier university designboomwater color of the proposed space 

pelli clarke pelli: st.katharine drexel chapel, xavier university of louisianawatercolor view of the approach 

model 

 

 

project info:

 

location: new orleans, louisiana, usalocal architect: waggoner and ball architectsarea: 1000 square metersyear of completion: 2012

 

 

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