18 December 2010

Priory Chapel: Mid-Century Monastery

The Priory Chapel located at the Saint Louis Abbey will be a featured building in a course I will be co-teaching with John Guenther, FAIA this spring focused on Mid-Century Modern Architecture in Saint Louis between 1930 and 1970.

View of interior with central altar and surrounding circular pews. Photograph by Andrew Raimist.
One of my recent photographs of the interior was selected as "Photo of the Week" by our public radio station KWMU. This building was one of the early projects by the relatively young Saint Louis architectural firm Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum. It brought a great deal of recognition to the firm and attention to it's lead designer Gyo Obata, FAIA.

A single vault with its own altar and sculptural crucifix. Photograph by Andrew Raimist.
The building was one of the highlights of the AIA's 1964 National Convention held in Saint Louis. More recently it was (somewhat belatedly) honored with the Twenty-Five Year Award by the Saint Louis Chapter of the AIA (American Institute of Architects).

The Chapel is set in the verdant landscape of the 150 acre campus. Photograph by Andrew Raimist.
The building is constructed of thin shell concrete formed in a series of parabolic arches. The building has a circular plan with an altar set in the center of the space below a central skylight.

The arches are arranged in three successive levels. The first series are set at ground level (the surrounding earth is bermed slightly from the landscape). A major circular structural beam of reinforced concrete joins these arches together and forms a base for the second tier of smaller arches which are aligned with those below. These vaults rise to a small ring which supports the bell tower and contains the central skylight.

The series of vaults are reflected in polished granite. Photograph by Andrew Raimist.

All photographs copyright © Andrew Raimist 2010.

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