Fentress Architects completes memorial chapel for the Marine Corps
Designed to LEED Silver certification standards, the Semper Fidelis Memorial Chapel serves as more than the centerpiece of the 20-acre Semper Fidelis Memorial Park south of the National Museum of the Marine Corps. This 77-seat chapel in the woods gives the overall Marine Corps Heritage Center a space defined by its simplicity, serenity and purity of form and materials. The 2,276-sq-ft chapel was completed in October 2009.
While the nearby museum was the natural setting for exhibitions, examples of transport vehicles and other artifacts, the client also wanted a place for contemplation and events both celebratory and solemn. The design team achieved this by referencing the form and function of a field chapel, a place hastily assembled in combat zones. The resulting non-denominational Semper Fidelis Memorial Chapel allows people to honour the sacrifices of loved ones, or host events and ceremonies.
The intimacy of the chapel is emphasised by the way in which its transparent envelope connects it to the surrounding parkland. Glass walls, etched with text expressing time-tested Marine Corps ideals, are framed by natural fieldstone and timber columns to establish a seamless relationship with nature. Aspects of the chapel speak a soldier’s language, with rectangular wood and stone pews that reference ammo boxes, and a defined slate roof that evokes a humble tarp. The ceiling’s open-truss natural timber structure features exposed diagonal wood decking illuminated by soft indirect lighting.
Every detail was carefully considered to achieve a space that stands out for its clear, clean aesthetic. For example, uplighting was recessed into the roof trusses’ bottom chord, producing an ethereal quality of light. The appearance of transparency was heightened by embedding the glass wall frames into notched wood columns. In all, the stress is on natural materials, lending the chapel an innately unaffected presence.