Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some introductory commentary on chapel design


I mentioned in my background post that at a certain point in the development of our idea of what a Catholic home should be and needed to be, that I thought it should have a chapel as part of the design. The idea of having a part of the home that functioned as a real chapel fit so well with other aspects of our family life, such as homeschooling and our practice of family prayer time, that it seemed like almost a necessity. Of course, a family doesn't need a chapel in order to do family prayer time or even for individual prayer time, but I don't know of many faith-centered families that would disagree that a chapel would significantly enhance these activities. And that's what building this home is all about, enhancing and assisting all family activities that are ordered toward our purpose: to know, love, and serve God and his Church. All such activities can be done in any environment, we simply desire the best environment for our family (the engineer in me desires an "optimized" environment, but I won't go there).

To this end, in regard to the chapel I started on a research project of my own. First, it was fairly simplistic. I wanted to find out if anyone else out there had conceived of a private chapel in a home and actually put it into practice. Not a private chapel for a religious community, which are fairly common, or a chapel in an ordained minister's residence, such as a bishop or priest, but a chapel that was designed into a residential single-family home. I researched quite extensively throughout the internet on this question and found the answer: yes, this has been done before, but very, very rarely. In fact, I have only been able to find two such instances in all my searches (feel free to post a comment if you know of any others that aren't findable on the internet, or let me know if I missed some that are).

The architect for both of these private home chapels is Duncan Stroik, in my opinion (which I only gained after all of my research) the foremost American Catholic church architect today. He doesn't only design Catholic churches, but his churches are certainly what he is known for, and what he can rightfully claim (in my opinion) to be the best at in America. In fact, I would say that he's the best in the world right now, though I haven't done as much research on international Catholic architects. Let's take a quick look at these two private home chapels.

Here is a chapel that Duncan Stroik designed for a home in Nebraska, dedicated to the Holy Family.

Go here for more pictures and an explanation by Duncan Stroik.

This is a ridiculously, almost absurdly beautiful space. Based on what I know now regarding the amount of custom pieces designed for this chapel and the types of materials used, I'm guessing that just this chapel alone cost somewhere on the order of $1,000,000. No, that's not a joke. So the natural question is, is this worth it? I guess it depends on the family, they obviously are quite wealthy. There's no question that if we tried to emulate the materials of this chapel and the detail and custom artwork, it would be immoral for our family, because we would be spending an exorbitant amount of money (that we don't have) on one space to the neglect of our children's welfare. But one can recognize and honor beauty so pure as this when one sees it.

One aspect that I'm not so sure about is the tabernacle. I trust this family got the permission of the local bishop to have an actual tabernacle in their chapel, with the blessed sacrament contained inside it, and I wonder about this. It would not be our intent to replace the function of our local parish in any way, and I wouldn't want to set up such a dual structure, where we might even be tempted not to keep our scheduled weekly adoration time because, heck, the tabernacle is right in our own chapel. Further, having an actual tabernacle with the blessed sacrament is far, far more responsibility than I would want in my house. There's innumerable things I could imagine our kids doing that would not be compatible with having a tabernacle (Aidan climbing and jumping off of it comes to mind).

Moving on, let's take a look at the second. This is a chapel that Duncan Stroik designed for a private residence (actually a ranch) in Lubbock, Texas, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Here's the link to the description by Duncan Stroik.

This is less opulent than the previous chapel, but it still fulfills its purpose: to lift one's spirit up to the Lord in prayer and reverence. This is a rather large chapel in that it seats 36 people. It's also detached from the main home, which is not what we would want for our home because it lessens the integration with the daily family life. I would like to frequently "pass by" our chapel and be prompted to prayer, rather than having to make an act of the will to go to the chapel outside of the main home. Still, I bet this is exactly what this family wanted, given that they live on or own a ranch. It could be somewhat of a retreat to be at this chapel, and I love the little courtyard out in front.

As I considered these chapel designs, and why they "work" or are "good" examples of Catholic architecture, I realized that I wasn't really well versed on the specifics of the architectural language of Catholic churches through history. Duncan Stroik was clearly employing specific elements of this historical language, but I didn't know what they were. And if I was going to have intelligent ideas about our own chapel, I realized I needed to research and learn (something I am never averse to). I leave what I learned for the next post. In the mean time, take a look at the stunning portfolio of Duncan Stroik's work. As a bit of a teaser for future posts, I actually corresponded with Duncan Stroik over e-mail about our chapel, and got some great ideas and information! As always, God bless!


Erik said...

There is at Thomas Aquinas College, in the old Doheny Ranch house on the property a small private chapel.
Every month or so they would have Mass there, very nice. It was built in the 1920's by Wallace Neff, look into it.

BTW love the concept of the blog, I'll keep tabs, as I'm a Catholic architect, also a soon to be graduate of ND and a former employ of Stroik.

Brendan Koop said...

Thanks for your comment Erik! I'll definitely see if I can find some more information on the chapel you pointed out. Definitely forward this blog to other Catholic architects who may be interested, I would love to know that architects read the blog. God bless you! Use your talents to change the world.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting but we have problems enough getting housing never mind Chapels, lovely though they are!

God bless

Brendan Koop said...

Thanks for your comment Jackie, I'm actually planning a post in the future on ideas that I have come up with for doing things in existing homes to promote the domestic church, and they are many! I hope this will provide people with inspiration that in any home a family can do really cool and inexpensive things to promote their prayer life and growth in virtue. I checked out your profile and your blog, what a great witness of Christ you are! Especially if you are in England, the Church needs your witness there!

Paul Long said...

I know a family that has a chapel in their house. But it is not particularily ornate at all. It seems like it was once just a living room, but its where they keep all their religious books, and have a small wooden tabernacle to keep Jesus.

Personally im not a particularily big fan of it because they dont have pews or anything of the sort, its just couches lying around in a semi-circle... The family is sorta charismatic, but they do love their faith and homeschooled(/are homeschooling) all 9 of their kids.

But it is a cheap option.

But i do like the idea of the Blog, and the house. Good luck and God Bless.

WannabeAnglican said...

This is all very interesting. I'm don't plan to build a chapel per se. And I'm not Roman Catholic. But I am a committed Anglican about to build a house. So I will this blog is of great interest.

Sara Freund said...

I love your ideas about including a chapel (a very deliberate prayer space) in the home, but I also see the conundrum of housing a tabernacle, meeting budget demands, not re-creating a monastery (which has a different function than a family home), and still creating a chapel that functions AS A CHAPEL, without detracting from the local parish. If it were more practical in Minnesota, I would think a detached chapel (which could be a separate phase of construction and part of later budget concerns) would be ideal. Still, when I lived at the St. Thomas Bernardi Campus in Rome, we had a great chapel that was nicely integrated, I thought. And simple too. Check out

Anonymous said...

Hello from Montana!

My wife and I are building a modest manor and we are both Catholics.

It's to be about 8 feet wide and about 11+ feet long. With 9 foot sidewalls and a peaked ceiling that's about 12-14 feet tall in the center.

As it will be in the second story the vaulted roof will enter into the attic space and hang some ornate chandeliers from the ceiling.

I'm leaving the main window blank as I want to use acetate and gallery glass to make a stained window, as the overall effect is to look like an actual church. Only smaller.

I'm going to have two pews about 5 feet wide to sit four. Most likely from Design Toscano as I like their religious art and furniture.

I hope to read more here and get ideas!!!

Brendan Koop said...

Good for you and thanks for the note! May The Lord bless your project, send photos when you're done :-)

mmatins said...

To echo, Erik's comment, TAC's Guadalupe chapel can be seen here. I'm a TAC alumna and I love that chapel. Happy Easter!