Community celebrate little chapel with big purpose
Butler Rogers Baskett Architects (BRB) completed renovation works at the Johnson Chapel at the Trinity School on New York’s Upper West Side last year. The 1,000 sq ft chapel has since found a reincarnation as a community hub for a number of new activities. Regular services, memorials, religion classes, and talks by speakers from various religious traditions all take place as normal but the space is now also used for meditation, yoga and pilates as well as being visited by individuals seeking a moment of pause in their day.
The Johnson Chapel provides a place of repose amidst the vibrant bustle of school life. The Chapel has won a 2009 Society of American Registered Architects (SARA) Professional Design Award, an Award of Merit in New York Construction’s “Best of 2009” competition and an Interior Design “Best of Year 2009” Award in the Institutional category.
BRB’s design methodology has been one of subtraction, refinement and integration. Natural light is introduced by a light slot along the north wall, reflecting diffuse warm sunlight deep into the space. This wall becomes an ever changing canvas throughout the day as a cool indirect morning light transforms to cast Mediterranean shadows at noon and later emanates a warm afternoon glow. The light slot is mirrored on the floor with a bed of river rock and a gently bubbling stone fountain, which lend texture, shadow, sound, and detail to the crisp white backdrop. The ceiling plane floats, disengaged from perimeter walls, and is lit indirectly, creating a cloud-like effect. The design reinforces this effect by keeping the surface unencumbered by light fixtures, access panels, diffusers, smoke detectors and other systems. The cloud is punctured by a large light cone, which gathers light and spills it around the altar table.
A displacement ventilation system introduces conditioned air at very low velocity through the bed of river rock, filling the occupied portion of the room much as water fills a bathtub. The warm “used” air is extracted via the reveal at the edge of the ceiling cloud, resulting in a healthy, efficient, and extremely quiet system with no visual access to diffusers or grilles.
Doors, seating, lighting, hymnal slots and a sound system are carefully integrated into a wide ribbon of woodwork, which wraps two sides of the space. The figured Maple ribbon creates and intimacy and provides a warm counterpoint to the crisp perfection of the plasterwork. The spare material palette includes a walnut plank floor, white river rock and several blackened steel elements designed by local artisan Kristina Kozak. Kozak collaborated with BRB in creating five hand-worked candelabra and the custom door pull. The hand hammered blackened steel crucifix, also designed by Kozak, is easily removable and can be hung on a custom armature in the sacristy.