Sunday, March 21, 2010

Half Dose #76: Johnson Chapel at Trinity School

Manhattan is full of hidden gems, spaces tucked into the blocks formed by the island's famous grid. A religious space that comes to mind is a chapel by Louise Nevelson tucked under the Citicorp Center in St. Peter's Church. Unlike her usual black palette, the space is all white with a skylight and window bringing soft light to the small space layered with her relief sculptures. In a similar vein, though unfortunately not open to the public, is the Johnson Chapel at Trinity School on the Upper West Side, designed by Butler Rogers Baskett Architects (BRB).

[photo by Woodruff/Brown Architectural Photography]

The renovation is described by the architects as "one of subtraction, refinement and integration" with natural light "introduced by a light slot along the north wall, reflecting diffuse warm sunlight deep into the space." A simple palette of white wall and ceiling planes with wood flooring and wall panels/seating is accentuated by a stone bed and fountain sitting below the skylight, behind the chapel's altar.

[photo by Woodruff/Brown Architectural Photography]

Daylight can be seen as religious architecture's constant building "material," from the stained glass expanses of Gothic churches to the creative expression of light in Tadao Ando's concrete architecture. Light is seen as a representation of God and the afterlife, an intangible material that speaks of something beyond the confines of the space occupied. Here light rakes down the rear wall from above, focusing attention towards the altar and the implied space beyond it; nothing new here but highly effective, nevertheless.

[photo by Woodruff/Brown Architectural Photography]

BRB created a minimal space devoid of the signs of the mechanical engineering nevertheless present. The bed of rock covers a ventilation system where air is introduced into the room, and the lowered ceiling plane hides returns for the same system. Hiding these and other systems usually expressed by grilles, fixtures and other elements is a very difficult task. Architect and engineer must work together early and thoroughly to assure the space's surfaces remain planar and pristine. The architect must also detail carefully to ensure this effect. It's no wonder that BRB has garnered a number of awards (including SARA and AIANY) for this small yet powerful space.

[photo by Woodruff/Brown Architectural Photography]

:: Trinity School
:: Butler Rogers Baskett Architects
:: Woodruff/Brown Architectural Photography


  1. What a beautifully pristine space. I'm amazed by the serenity created through pure material, form and light. I've always wanted to design a church or chapel space...this is inspiring.

    1. Meet too!, actually 'im currently designing a small chapel...

  2. Quite a suprise, Nevelson's sculpture is so melodramatic.

    Can't see the chairs that clearly, but they look like they have an interesting design - individual chairs, but have elements that combine them into groups, or pews in this context.


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