The Catholic Diocese Chapel - Designing with Light

"I said that all material in nature, the mountains and the streams and the air and we, are made of Light which has been spent, and this crumpled mass called material casts a shadow, and the shadow belongs to Light.

So Light is really the source of all being". - Louis Kahn


The Catholic Diocese of Charleston Pastoral Center

Rendering of Chapel and Assembly Building by LS3P.

It has been a while since I provided an update on the construction progress over at the Catholic Diocese of Charleston Pastoral Center.  I first wrote about this project in the blog Design....It's a process.  In that blog I chronicled the evolution of the Chapel design. 

During my last visit to the Pastoral Center, I was extremely excited about the construction progress.  My favorite place on the campus is definitely the Chapel.  And the most striking feature of the Chapel:

The Light


There is an abundance of natural light in the Chapel.  This was one of our early design goals so it is very rewarding to see this goal translated into reality.  In the quote by Louis Kahn above, Kahn is extremely eloquent and poetic in his description of light.  To me it is much more simple.

I try to fill my architecture with natural light because it is practical and it makes people feel good.

There are some very basic rules an architect needs to know about the sun.  In the Northern Hemisphere the sun rises in the East and travels on a Southern route to the West.  In the Summer the sun is the highest, and in the winter the lowest.  You can get much more sophisticated and technical with sun studies, but these basics are all I believe you need to know.

We oriented the Chapel East-West with the altar on the East end.  This allows for maximum sun exposure on the long side of the church creating tons of natural light.  The nave of the Chapel is lined with windows at the perimeter, clerestory windows up high, and tall windows that will flank the altar.

The Chapel Nave.  Facing the altar.

The Chapel Nave.  Facing the altar.

The Chapel Nave.  Flanking windows.


The Narthex

The next two photos were taken standing in the narthex.  The narthex is the vestibule space between the main entrance and the nave.  Look how the wood ceilings pick up the light and glow.  

You will be able to see the glowing ceiling and high windows from outside of the church.  As if the light is leading you in.

Here is a concept rendering standing in front of the chapel.  You can see the telescoping sequence of spaces.  

And here is a construction photo standing in the same space.  The opening is draped in plastic, but notice that you can see a glowing light through the plastic.  That glowing light is the circular window at the far end of the nave.


Light needs to be controlled.

Not all sun light is good light.  When direct sun light enters a space it can cause glare and put extra pressures on the air conditioning system.  Imagine if you were sitting in one of the pews and the sun was shining directly in your eyes.  Would it not be uncomfotable? For this reason we had to employ some simple design solutions to control the light.

Shade The South Facing Glass

The windows in the photo below face south and are very large.  People sitting on this side of the chapel would be very uncomfortable; therefore, we have incorporated a 4' overhang. The overhang will help shade the glass.

Overhangs at the Clerestory Windows

An 18" eave overhang has been provided at the clerestory windows.  We did not need to provide as large of an overhang at these windows because they are so high that the light will bounce around on the upper walls before making its way down to the floor. 

Frosted Glass

Remember those 2 tall windows that flank the altar?  Those windows face East.  Since the sun rises in the East and mass will typically be held in the morning, we needed to get creative about how we protected these windows.  The top two thirds of the glass is frosted which will prevent the sun light from shining directly into people's eyes.  The lower third is clear vision glass.  This is low enough where there will not be any direct glare and will allow for a picturesque view of the marsh beyond.

This is a glimpse of that view beyond.  The edge of the marsh is lined with live oaks and beyond the marsh is the Ashley River.  This is where the cast stone window sills and veneer are being stored.  One of the nicest lay down areas you will ever see.

Here is one last glimpse at the building exterior.  In my next blog about this project I will talk about the Building Skin.

Next time you find yourself in a church, take a look at the windows.  What do you see?


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