DESIGNER COLUMNS & BLOGS / Architecture Is Fun

Posted in Architecture Is Fun on October 25, 2017 1:37 pm EDT

Learning From AIA Gold Medal Laureates

In 2016, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi were named as the American Institute of Architects' Gold Medal laureates--the first partnership to win the prize. Here, a look at their monumental Episcopal Academy Chapel in Pennsylvania.

Episcopal Academy Chapel, Newtown Square, Pa., Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, image: venturiscottbrown.org


 

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TAGS: aia, architectural design, architecture, chapel design,

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By Peter Exley, FAIA, and Sharon Exley, MAAE, ASID

In 2016, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi were named as The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal laureates. Brown and Venturi are the first “singular” partnership to ever win the prize and Brown is the first living woman to receive the award. The Gold Medal is the AIA's highest accolade and is awarded to those whose work is expected to have a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. The joint recognition resonates with generations of architects. Elizabeth Chu Richter, former AIA president, states that, "through a lifetime of inseparable collaboration, they changed the way we look at buildings and cities."

The Gold Medal is the AIA's highest accolade and is awarded to those whose work is expected to have a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.

We’re thankful for the Venturi Scott Brown legacy they have shared with us: the scholarly and seminal writings, "Learning from Las Vegas to Complexity and Contradiction," and the designs, built and unbuilt, that impact and influence the theory and practice of architecture.

The iconic and identifiable Episcopal Academy Chapel is a marvelous exemplar in the Venturi Scott Brown canon; a building to “learn from.” In 2001, the Episcopal Academy acquired land to relocate two campuses to Newtown Square in Pennsylvania. The focus of what Venturi Scott Brown called the “school village” would be their design for a new chapel. Completed in 2008, the chapel is a distinctive, well used and highly functional center.

Image: ArchDaily.

Its monumental form is composed of layers of soaring clerestories and masonry walls. The spaces between allow light and flow. Inside the chapel, the fan-shaped plan allows worshippers to face the altar and each other, nurturing a sense of shared community. Nearly a decade later, Head Chaplain Tim Gavin shared some thoughts with us, “The clear windows in the Narthex give us a clear view from the sanctuary out to the world beyond the chapel. This symbolism points to the reality that what we learn in the safety of the sanctuary must be carried and practiced in the world beyond.”

Sharing his experience, knowledge and what he’s learned from Venturi Scott Brown, Gavin continued, “The simplicity of the chapel – I like to refer to it as contemporary contemplative – offers a space that presents no distractions. It is an easy place to enter into for prayer and meditation. The simple nature of the interior allows us to be inclusive of other religious. Our students, whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, feel at ease and at home in our chapel.”

“Architecture can’t force people to connect, it can only plan the crossing points, remove barriers, and make the meeting places useful and attractive.”

~ Denise Scott Brown

The Episcopal Chapel makes us remember that and more.

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