Seattle, WA, United States, 1994 - 1997
PROGRAM: Jesuit chapel for Seattle University
CLIENT: Seattle University
SIZE: 6,100 sq ft
STATUS: completed
Seven bottles of light in a stone box; the metaphor of light is shaped in different volumes emerging from the roof whose irregularities aim at different qualities of light: East facing, South facing, West and North facing, all gathered together for one united ceremony. Each of the light volumes corresponds to a part of the program of Jesuit Catholic worship. The south-facing light corresponds to the procession, a fundamental part of the mass. The city-facing north light corresponds to the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and to the mission of outreach to the community. The main worship space has a volume of east and west light. At night, which is the particular time of gatherings for mass in this university chapel, the light volumes are like beacons shining in all directions out across the campus.
"Steven Holl's Chapel of St. Ignatius transformed the pleasant and respectable, but otherwise unremarkable Seattle University campus into one whose center of gravity is now a work of international architectural significance. Holl, whose architectural ideas begin with exquisite, abstract watercolor sketches, describes this church as a stone vessel holding seven liturgical "bottles of light." It is all that and more. The stone walls (which are in truth dyed concrete) are tilt slabs with crisp edges and corners that interlock, puzzle-like and tightly, calling to mind the certainty of Aquinas. Inside this carapace, there is a far different, further complex world, with more the feeling of Merton's spiritual journey. The walls are lovely, not just for the ways they bend and contort and curl around to shape the spaces, but for their surfaces, which look and feel as though they've been coated with candle way by monks and then scratched, so that light is not allowed to easily skim over the corduroy surfaces. Just as in Seattle's leaden skies, the light here has to make an effort to get through and across; it has to scale each ripple and climb out of each groove. The light's labors reward our lingering. And in an inversion of the tradition that a stained glass roster of saints declares providence to the congregation, light from single shards of colored glass, concealed from direct view, alone suggest revelation. All of a sudden, an intense patch of green magically condenses on a white waxen wall and then, with the passage of clouds, it dissolves, while another apparition, this one red, quietly materializes on another wall as if by divine decree."
'Steven Holl’s work has always been marked by a dynamic modesty, an apparent simplicity around which an agenda of space, proportion and language is intensively explored. His current proposal for the 600 sq m Jesuit Chapel of St. Ignatius starts from a well-mannered premise as to site and perimeter condition, then springs into architectural life as interior volumes rise up to catch the natural light and emit, on winter evenings, a carefully calibrated glow. Holl’s roofscape of zinc-clad vessels should prove to be an unusually articulate symbol of spiritual purpose'.
– Raymund Ryan, The Architectural Review
'One of the most widely studied churches of the past few years has been Steven Holl’s Chapel of St. Ignatius. Holl made his church a journey through different passages of light – colored, clear, subdued, direct'.
– Richard Lacayo, TIME
'What makes the interior so arresting and enigmatic are the halos of softly pigmented light sliced through by shocking patches of otherworldly color'.
– Sheri Olson, Architectural Record
'Here, in Seattle, in The Chapel of St. Ignatius, are invented a series of repetitions and permutations in multiple “bottles of light.” These encourage us to imagine the time of our choice, vessels in the shape of bottles that transmit and preserve the beauty of light during the day and radiate different colors of light at night. In this modest chapel, Steven Holl has here achieved a rare and difficult architectural excellence'.
– Yehuda Safran, Domus 796
'The completed chapel has an engaging spirituality rarely found in contemporary buildings. It offers a traditional sense of religious space with its Spartan, vaulted interiors, yet ignores most of the conventional rules of formality, symmetry, and order in favor of eccentric composition. The combination of direct and reflected colors, and the various locations and intensities of sunlight creates a constantly changing, ethereal effect on the interior walls. Thanks to this religious context, Holl has achieved a more refined, mystical application of his theories of light, first explored for D.E. Shaw & Company. Moving and intimate, the chapel successfully expresses spiritual contemplation'.
– Mark Hinshaw, Architecture
'Steven Holl's dramatically simple Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University is, in every sense, illuminating. This spare, striking chapel, the cornerstone of Seattle University, offers testimony to the power of architecture to awe and amaze. It was designed by Washington-born New Yorker Steven Holl, who believes that architecture need not be tied to singular meanings, one-dimensional explanations, or unilateral ideas. His is an architecture of accident, intricacy, complexity. Holl designs buildings to be read much like poetry, on many levels - form, metaphor, symbol, structure'.
– Beth Dunlop, House & Garden, 9/1/2004


  • National AIA Religious Architecture Award, USA, 1997

    • architect
      • – Steven Holl Architects
        • Steven Holl (design architect)
        • Tim Bade (project architect)
        • Janet Cross, Jan Kinsbergen, Justin Korhammer, Audra Tuskes (project team)
    • local architect
      • – Olson Sundberg Architects
    • structural engineer
      • – Monte Clark Engineering
      • – Datum Engineering
    • electrical engineer
      • – Abacus Engineered Systems
    • mechanical engineer
      • – Abacus Engineered Systems
    • liturgical consultant
      • – Bill Brown, AIA P.C.
        • Bill Brown, AIA P.C.
    • lighting consultant
      • – L'Observatoire International
    • acoustical consultant
      • – Peter George and Associates
    • general contractor
      • – Baugh Construction
    • artist
      • – Linda Beaumont
        • Linda Beaumont, Dora Nikolova Bittau
    Press Contact

    Original Copy
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