St. Ignatius Chapel

17. November 2014

St. Ignatius Chapel
Clarke County, Virginia

Client
Georgetown University

Architect
Dynerman Architects, PC
Washington, D.C.

Design Principal/Project Manager
Alan Dynerman, FAIA

Project Architect
Jennifer Carney, AIA (Contract Administration Phase)

Project Team
Jae Ha

Structural Engineer
McMullan Associates

MEP/FP Engineer
Comfort Design

Lighting Designer
Dynerman Architects, PC

Contractor
Howard Shockey & Sons / Walnutdale Building Company (joint venture)

Construction Manager
Tom Keaton

Project Manager, Georgetown University
Chris Jordan

Photographs
Alan Karchmer Photographer

Drawings
Dynerman Architects, PC

Since 1991 Georgetown University has offered first-year and transfer students an "overnight experience" away from its Washington, D.C. campus with it ESCAPE program. Last year the school dedicated the program's new venue, the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, named for alumnus Arthur Calcagnini, who has endowed the program since its inception. Located in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, the Center's various buildings were designed by Dynerman Architects, a standout being the St. Ignatius Chapel. Alan Dynerman answered a few questions about the building.

Chapel at dusk

What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

Ours is a small firm and like many similar offices getting commissions is often serendipitous; the history of his project coming into the office was just that.

I was asked to be on a design jury at an architecture school here in Washington, D.C. Also on that jury was Alan Brangman, then the university architect for Georgetown University. At the end of the review he asked if, in the next week or two, I would come by his office and show him examples of our work. One of the projects I presented was a home in rural Virginia that I had done a few years earlier. An important component of the “farmhouse” is a large stone fireplace. At that time Alan was beginning the search for an architect to design a retreat center that a major donor to the university was funding. He felt the fireplace design and my approach to architecture would strike a chord with the donor and the Jesuit priest who overseeing the project – I was hired.

Entry from across courtyard

Please provide an overview of the project.

This chapel is a component of the Georgetown University Calcagnini Contemplative Center, also designed by Dynerman Architects, PC (see site plan at bottom).

At the core of Ignatian teachings and the Jesuit traditions are spiritual exercises that form the basis of the ritual of retreats within this order. Georgetown University’s program of retreats is quite varied; some are spiritual, others completely non- religious. Historically, the university has rented multiple venues to serve this broad agenda. In 2004, Georgetown purchased land in rural Clarke County, Virginia, to build a center to house all its retreats. A key component of the Center is the St. Ignatius Chapel.

View of nave

What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?

The chapel was designed to serve small groups – up to 24 celebrants – and is conceived as an elemental pavilion. The design seeks to connect churches of the 16th century – the time of the founding of the Jesuits – whose manipulation of light served the order’s deeply spiritual rites and values with Clarke County’s rural vernacular.

In support of this rustic nobility, the palette is spare yet rich. The masonry walls – stuccoed inside and out – are perforated with 8” x 8” x 1 1/2” slabs of glass; the floor is poured in place stained concrete. Exposed fir framing and cedar boards complete the interior. The roof is galvanized aluminum, typical for the sheds and barns of the region.

View along altar shelf

To what extent did the clients and/or future users of the building influence the design and the outcome of the building?

This is an odd question, at least from my point of view; the clients’ needs and agenda are at the heart of any good design.  While Georgetown University is a Jesuit school the make up of students and faculty is quite varied. The chapel needed to serve all the religious communities at Georgetown – Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc. The salient programmatic issue was developing a design that imparted a clear and strong sense of spirituality without being overly specific to any one religion. The simplicity of the design – plan, massing and palette – coupled with the manipulation of light affords spirituality without the banality often found in multi-denominational chapels.

View to tabernacle

How would you describe the architecture of Virginia and how does the building relate to it?

In the past one could argue that “Virginia Architecture” encompassed some identifiable types, divided more along the lines of specific regions – the piedmont, the tide-water, urban, etc – than simply the entire state. But the technological and climatic forces that informed regionalism are no longer driving factors. Current and important sustainable issues notwithstanding, we pretend to have conquered climate and the technologies of building in California are no different from those in Virginia or Michigan. That said, the chapel design is informed by the architecture of rural buildings in Virginia’s piedmont – not as a quotation but in the choice of materials and simplicity of massing and plan.

Email interview conducted by John Hill.

Interior rendering

View to east wall

Early perspective
Overall site plan
Plan

St. Ignatius Chapel
Clarke County, Virginia

Client
Georgetown University

Architect
Dynerman Architects, PC
Washington, D.C.

Design Principal/Project Manager
Alan Dynerman, FAIA

Project Architect
Jennifer Carney, AIA (Contract Administration Phase)

Project Team
Jae Ha

Structural Engineer
McMullan Associates

MEP/FP Engineer
Comfort Design

Lighting Designer
Dynerman Architects, PC

Contractor
Howard Shockey & Sons / Walnutdale Building Company (joint venture)

Construction Manager
Tom Keaton

Project Manager, Georgetown University
Chris Jordan

Photographs
Alan Karchmer Photographer

Drawings
Dynerman Architects, PC

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