How To Guides

Selecting an Architect: A Case Study

May 22, 2007

GILBERT SUNGHERA, SJ

Read Part I ("The 3 C's in Selecting an Architect: Cost, Competency & Compatibility")

The Process:

Committee at workIn the fall of 2005, Fr. Gregory Bonfiglio, SJ, president of Jesuit High School in Sacramento, CA, began listening sessions with students and parents about a new chapel for the campus.  One student's comment ("When I enter this space, I want to be reminded that there is something greater than myself present") helped Fr. Bonfiglio realize that the chapel needed to be more than functional or even inspiring; it needed to touch the deeper core of a student's spiritual journey.

Though the client is not a parish, this case study illustrates an approach that is useful for most parish communities.  Jesuit High School is an all-boys college prep high school with a well-established liturgy program that reflects a healthy balance between tradition and lively engagement as a response to the draw of local mega churches towards the youth.

A Chapel Design Advisory Committee of sixteen members, representing faculty/staff, alumni, and board members, participated in a sequence of workshops in order to define the chapel and study how architectural design communicates values of the owners.  Architectural tours to San Francisco and Los Angeles aided the committee's appreciation for architectural design.  Once the committee had clarity of vision and the visual criteria needed to meet that vision, the formal selection process began. 

Twenty-five west coast (of the United States) firms were invited to submit qualifications in response to a Request of Qualification ("RFQ").  Even though the budget was relatively small, the high response rate indicated great interest among the architectural community.  These firms ranged from small, one-person operations doing work at the local level to large firms with projects internationally.  Most of these firms have received regional and national architecture awards, and a few have received international recognition.  The candidates were also asked to respond to specific questions regarding architectural qualities needed to elicit transcendence, contemplation, and transition for today's youth.  Six firms were identified from this pool of highly qualified candidates to submit fee proposals via a Request for Proposal ("RFP").

These semifinalists were invited to the campus to visit the site and attend an all-school liturgy, as well as lunch with the Chapel Design Advisory Committee and a discussion with students.  Following this visit, the candidates submitted their fee proposals and commented on their design approach for this project.  The committee did not want the firms to submit design ideas, since the committee recognized that a good design solution would only emerge after timely exploration and reflection, and any premature design attempts offered during the selection process would hinder the final solution.  After reviewing the six proposals, four finalist firms were interviewed at their offices by members of a sub-committee; each candidate gave a tour of a few of their local projects.  After ten days of rigorous discussion and discernment, a firm was selected, and the process of design initiated.

The Project Vision Statement Emphasized

The following points comprised the Project Vision Statement for the chapel:

»  The need for this chapel to speak to new generations of a tradition formed over the past 2,000 years;
»  Built to last but with current construction methods that differ than those used to create the great churches of the past;
»  Respect the environment;
»  Capture volumes of space in a way that communicates a sense of the transcendent and inspires awe, while at the same time creates a sense of intimacy to allow both communal worship and private prayer;
»  Serve as a landmark for, and announce a faith tradition rooted in the Ignatian vision to, the campus community and the broader Sacramento community.

The Selected Architect

The firm selected for the chapel was Hodgetts & Fung Design and Architecture of Culver City, CA.  The chapel at Jesuit High School will be the architects' first design of sacred space.  Even though the committee recognized the firm's lack of experience with the design of worship environments, they realized the architects' ability to ask the deeper questions required for the design of a sacred space accessible to the youth of today and rooted in 2,000 years of history.  That assessment came through the a process that assessed cost, compatibility and this expanded evaluation of design competency.

Rev. Gilbert Sunghera, SJ is a liturgical space consultant with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Detroit, MI.

READ OTHER ARTICLES BY GILBERT SUNGHERA:

Strategies for Designing a Multicultural Worship Space
The 3 C's in Selecting an Architect: Cost, Competency & Compatibility

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