28 August 2009

Liepaja Latvia Chapel

Liepaja is a beautiful coastal city off the Baltic Sea in Latvia. Starting in 2003, the LDS Church looked at the possibility of building a new meetinghouse downtown for the large branch created after proselyting began here in 1992. The site purchased was along an existing transit line across the road from city administration and in the vicinity of three historical churches. Newly completed this month, the Liepaja Chapel is now the largest LDS chapel in Latvia at just over 600 square meters (6500 square feet.)

The traditional standard plan design presented to the city was not approved. The Church News reported that "propaganda turned much public sentiment against the Church" (Church News, Faith Renewed, 12 Jan 2008) as a reason for failure. This may have been the case, however the local media reported, "[T]he Liepāja Local Building Board objections were not against the house of worship as such, but against the originally planned construction as inconsistent with the nature of the urban heritage values." (Latvijas Avize, 'Top lielākais mormoņu dievnams', 04 Feb 2009) As proof that this was the main concern, rather than religious bigotry, when the Church resubmitted a new modern design proposal with appropriate features fitting in with the city guidelines and requests, it was approved. [Since I don't know anyone who speaks Latvian, I had to rely on a computer translation for the above quote.]

Site Plan

Exterior Elevation

Similar processes of rejected building plans and delays in building permits happen regularly, including in the US. When this happens in LDS circles, it is often attributed to anti-Mormon sentiment, but is often simply a community that cares about what is built there and the desire for something appropriate and integral to the site context in which it is placed. This is also frequently the case in downtown and historic districts, of which the Liepaja Chapel belongs to both. Fortunately in this case, there is now a beautiful chapel that fits into the context of the site, the historic character of the neighborhood, and the culture of the city and country into which it is located. Finally the branch has a building to "replace their second-story rented room." (Church News, Faith Renewed, 12 Jan 2008)

Rendering of building placed in existing street context

Photo of building under construction

The diagram of the plan is formed by two rectangular pieces coming together to form the ‘L shape’ of the building. The intersection of these pieces forms the lobby. The act of coming together crushes one leg of the rectangle, angling the wall and forming the lobby as an extension of the corridor. This angled wall becomes the most important gesture in the plan.

The building is placed on the site with an urban context in mind, maintaining the street wall by placing the building along the street edge with parking hidden behind. Suburban settings typically do the opposite; no street wall because of large building setbacks and parking located in front of the building.

Preliminary Floor Plan

Final Floor Plan

The preliminary floor plan shown is an older version of the plan with the font and restrooms located at the rear of the building. In the final floor plan, the font and restrooms have been wisely moved to the front, adjacent to the street entry. This arrangement better supports a symbolic narrative of progress through the building. First, as a wanderer off the street, you are drawn to the building as a means of ascension to God by entering under the steeple. The first step is one of cleansing through the ritual of baptism where you change from street clothes to white clothing and are washed pure. You are welcomed into the Church in the chapel where you meet those in the congregation, sing hymns to God, and partake of weekly sacraments. Continuing through the building are the classrooms where weekly instruction is given. Finally at the back of the building is the large activity room where you can socialize with others and form close friendships.

Additionally, these uses are also in order of priority as you move through the building, with baptism being the most important function in the meetinghouse, followed by the sacrament, instructional teaching, and finally social activities. In a way, this is the opposite of the temple, which increases in priority as you move through the building.

Building Foyer

Chapel interior

The Chapel is heavily influenced by a traditional US design that doesn't speak the language of the rest of the building. Unfortunately this is the weakest part of the building. However, it is still a stronger design than current US chapels. For example, the entire length of the chapel on both sides is lined with a series of tall vertical windows. Not only do the windows provide natural light, but also a more open, inviting, and welcoming space, linking the Chapel with the exterior. The one set of windows open up directly to the public street, linking the Chapel with the community. Further, the windows are glazed with clear glass, not the translucent frosted glass commonly used in the US. Also, the blinds are open, which really should be the rule in all our buildings, not the exception. There is nothing for this building to hide; it wants to be open, visible, and a part of this community.

Font adjacent to street entry

The font is located right off of the street entry. The door to the room is actually a large opening with a floor to ceiling transparent glass slider to close off the space if needed. This beautiful detail sends the message that even when the slider is closed, the font is always there; visually open and accessible to all; a constant reminder of the importance of baptism in the Church. Similar sliders in front of the font with a metal trim piece across the ceiling line provide a beautiful threshold into the space of ritual cleansing. Finally the distinctive circular window highlights the room with a connection to the front elevation. A room such as this would demand reverence and respect at all times because of the visual presence of the font. A place that would be appropriate for ponder or study. Overall this solution, along with the Leura Chapel font, provides successful solutions to how the importance of baptism can be conveyed through our buildings and the font placement and prominence. Both are more successful in this than current US and International standard plan designs.

Side of building and driveway with rock landscaping

Back of building showing parking

Other Items of Note:
- The steeple tower marks the street entry, as though the building were saying, “Enter here to ascend to God.” The ‘building as a steeple’ helps convey the image in which the building will help assist in that ascension.
- There is no material transition to the steeple. The building itself angles up to become the steeple.
-There are clean transitions from roof to wall, i.e. no roof overhang, which helps to emphasize the form and shape of the building. Unnecessary details such as an overhang are removed since there is no purpose for them.
-The exterior is detailed with clean lines and openings as a result of not using any unnecessary brick coursing or corner details
-The brown, older-looking brick fits in with the character of the old town
-Tall, vertical repeating windows occur in well-proportioned groupings
-There are benches around the building
-Rocks, not grass, are used in the landscaping
-Interior spot lights are used on the lobby artwork
-Modern furniture is used in the lobby which speaks the same language as the building
-No sisal wall coverings, carpet on floors, crown moldings, or chair rails are used (except in the chapel), which also speaks to the language of the building
-Lots of interior natural light present
-At all entries, the exterior massing is recessed which provides a shadow line and gives prominence. No unnecessary false gables are added to indicate entry, as is common in the US.
-Parking is done with pavers, not asphalt

Design Architect: AKA Birojs (led by Andris Kokins)
Address: 31 K. Valdemara st. Liepaja, Latvia
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20 August 2009

Green is the Greenest Color

Green wing by A Hermida

Ever wonder why so many buildings have green glass? I learned why today during a lunch presentation by Pilkington glass. It turns out that green offers the optimum solution for maximizing high light transmission with low solar heat gain. As you can see in the graph below, clear glass offers the highest light transmission (lets more light in), but it also is the highest in solar heat gain (room heats up). This would be desirable for buildings in the north where the climate is primarily cold. But for buildings in the south where the climate is primarily hot, less solar heat gain would be desirable.

Spectral Graph of Solar Energy

For some reason green is high in visible transmission, but the lowest in heat gain. The narrow band of wavelengths between 380 nm and 780 nm of the solar spectrum is visible to the eye. This represents the light transmission coming through the glass. Beyond this is Solar Infrared wavelengths. Infrared energy is what we experience in the form of heat every day. It lies between the visible and microwave sections of the electromagnetic spectrum. This represents the amount of solar heat gain through the glass.

BYU library by sudweeks

222 S Main in Salt Lake City by Tmac
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19 August 2009

Calgary Temple - update

Aerial image of Calgary (temple location indicated with red dot)

This original post, done far too late last night, mistakenly included an image of what I thought was the Calgary temple, but turns out to be the Vancouver Temple (although, it's not Vancouver either - it looks more like Rexburg). The new Calgary Temple design has not yet been released. The Canadian architect working on the project, ABBARCH Architecture, also designed the Vancouver Temple in Langley, BC, and this Temple is still listed under the 'Current Work' portion of their site. The link to the image can be found here.

These two temples, Calgary and Vancouver, share the similarity of being located at the furthest edge of development in their respective communities as shown in the aerial image above. As discussed in a previous post, the problems with this are increased travel time, limited access for people without a vehicle, encouraging of sprawl, and very little visibility or interaction with the community at large, especially compared to what it could be in the city center.

But wait, there's good news! Fortunately in the case of the Calgary Temple, in several years there will be an adjacent new light rail station to help remove the problem of limited access for this Edge Temple. The C-Train has been in operation in Calgary since 1981. The northern terminus, or ‘end-of-the-line’ station along the Northwest Line is called Crowfoot and was just completed two months ago.

The proposed new station will extend from Crowfoot further north through the median of Crowchild Trail (Highway 1A). Called Tuscany/Rocky Ridge, this station will become the new terminus, or ‘end-of-the-line’ in 2011 when completion is expected.

Calgary Light Rail System Map

Aerial image of Temple site adjacent to existing chapel. Also shown is transit site.

In addition to the new station, the transit hub will also include:
-Park and Ride and bus loops on both the north and south sides of Crowchild Trail with capacity for approximately 550 vehicles
-A pedestrian bridge linking the Park and Ride facilities with the LRT station
(From City of Calgary)

Tuscany/Rocky Ridge Station Site

Tuscany/Rocky Ridge Station Rendering

This light rail station will greatly facilitate the ability for all of Calgary’s citizens to visit or attend the temple. When the station is completed, it looks to be about a half mile walk from the temple. This is quite good, but may prove problematic for the elderly or those with special physical needs. Also, this distance may be uncomfortable or difficult in the wintertime. Fortunately a proposed sidewalk is shown linking the station to the temple. Hopefully by having transit options such as these available adjacent to the temple, more people will be able to serve and worship in the building as it was intended.
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18 August 2009

Guest Post at Wilderness Interface Zone

For anyone interested, I have a guest post today over at Wilderness Interface Zone. Patricia has created a wonderful website described as "A Mormon literary backcountry where words and place come together." My post is titled '8.3 Million' describing my first trip to New York City.

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16 August 2009

Can Poetry Save the Earth?

This post is inspired from a beautiful morning devotional yesterday by Frances Lee Menlove given at the 2009 Sunstone Symposium. In the book, Can Poetry Save The Earth?: A Field Guide to Nature Poems, John Felstiner "explores the rich legacy of poems that take nature as their subject, and he demonstrates their force and beauty. In our own time of environmental crises, he contends, poetry has a unique capacity to restore our attention to our environment in its imperiled state. And, as we take heed, we may well become better stewards of the earth." On April 13, 2009 NPR issued Felstiner a challenge: "Pick just one poem that could save the world, if everyone were to read it." He chose 'The Well Rising.'

The Well Rising
by William Stafford

The well rising without sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through
the deep ground
everywhere in the field--

The sharp swallows in their
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer--

The swallow heart from wing beat
to wing beat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place
my feet
with care in such a world.

(From Can Poetry Save The Earth?: A Field Guide to Nature Poems)

It is beautiful to contemplate what 'placing our feet with care in this world' could come to mean for each of us. To go along with this, my brother-in-law Tyler, who has spent the summer traveling in Guatemala has introduced me to Pablo Neruda.

Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

(From Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

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06 August 2009

Leura Chapel

The Leura chapel is located in the Blue Mountains of Australia in New South Wales, near Sydney. Designed in 1980 by Dale Swan from the firm of Ancher/Mortlock/Woolley and built in 1983, this is a striking departure from the Standard Plans program administered by Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City. I was very pleased to learn of its existence this week. The building has been published in two books, is featured on the architects’ website, and won a Merit Award from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1984.

"Mormon Chapel
Design/Completion 1980/1983
Leura, New South Wales
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
3,850 square metres
Load-bearing brickwork, steel roof frame
Painted brick, concrete, corrugated iron

The Mormon Church has traditionally chosen the design for each of its local chapels from a set of standardised designs. The chapel at Leura was one of the earliest breaks from this tradition, but was nevertheless required to incorporate the church’s familiar symbolism.

The result is a tower with a stylised and tapered finial and low spreading, white, domestic-scale roofs. The prominent hilltop site is typical of locations for traditional churches, so an effort was made to create a building that was recognisable as a church, while eschewing traditional church elements.

Light is the overall theme of the interior, and it is brought in from four sources to play on a volume of white surfaces. Primary sources are the close-mullioned window to the gallery and forecourt, and skylights at the ridge line. A large window recessed into the tower brings light along the surface of the end wall, behind the dais, to pass over the vault of the gallery. The most subtle light enters from a huge half-cylindrical reflector on the west side. Light is reflected up along the roof plane from an opening at the level of the pews, but as the roof extends to the centre of the cylinder, no direct view out is obtained. This cylinder also acts as a somewhat oversized roof gutter." (From ‘The Master Architect Series IV – Ken Woolley and Ancher Mortlock & Woolley,’ page 102-103.)

"NSW7 Church of Jesus Christ and The Latter Day Saints
Railway Parade, Leura
1983. Ancher Mortlock & Woolley
Public access available

The early 1980s saw a range of white architectural projects. This church by architect Ken Woolley incorporated symbols which are required by the Mormons in their churches, including the use of a tower and low-spreading, domestically-scaled roofs. The white colour in the church is also a requirement of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints.

The serene interior space is lit with reflected light from semi-circular troughs at ground level. Light also enters through the ridge line where it is baffled by the tie beams. A large window, recessed into the tower which passes over the vault of the gallery, lights the speakers from the side and from above. The construction of the chapel was kept very simple to facilitate the use of volunteer labour to build the church." (From ‘The Architecture of East Australia’ by Bill MacMahon, page 122-123.)

The design incorporates simple, clean lines into the building. This allows for building costs that are in line with Standard Plan meetinghouses of similar size. The white exterior building materials and roof reflect the hot Australian sun away, helping to keep the building cool, providing energy savings, and a building that stands out in the neighborhood. The cultural hall opens up into the barrel-vaulted corridor and beyond into an open courtyard space for activities, directly linking the interior and exterior.

The font for the building is located at the entry lobby with step-down seating leading to the waters edge for viewing. The location of the font here is a sermon all by itself teaching the importance of baptism to the LDS Church. Baptisms are arguably the most important ordinance performed in our meetinghouses. And yet the space for baptism is in many cases unimportant with regard to its placement in the building. Putting the font behind closed doors hidden in a back classroom does little to promote our understanding of the importance of baptism. The font here exists in the most visible space of the building.

This type of approach to the building of sacred space is recognized by the community who have embraced the building, the members who use the building, and the design professionals who have awarded the building with deserving public recognition. The building also becomes a missionary face for the Church that clearly communicates the gospel principles of baptism, the light of Christ, the living water, renewal, and community. Repeating this chapel as part of the Standard Plan program would endear members to their buildings and be a place of joy for members of the community to rally around and support.

Unfortunately no building has been built in the past 25 years that resembles this, nor have any of the innovations or features discovered here by the architect been used elsewhere in LDS buildings. It is rumored that the presiding bishop, during a tour of the building said the Church would never again build a meetinghouse like this. And none ever have. This is the only recent LDS Meetinghouse I am aware of that has been published or honored with an award because of its beauty and architectural merit. If there are other recent modern LDS chapels out there that you are familiar with, that are of good report or praiseworthy, I would be interested to learn of them.

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