The new chapel at Sacred Heart University serves as a beacon for spiritual life on the campus in Fairfield, Conn. It has a striking presence on the university’s new main quadrangle, complementing the new library and Humanities Center.
Designed by Sasaki Associates, the chapel, marked by a bell tower, leads into the narthex, a generous space with expansive views of the main quad and direct connections to the main chapel to the west and the small chapel to the south. With seating for up to 450 people, the chapel is clad in wood and glass with a soaring ceiling line toward the altar.
Sasaki designed environmental graphics in harmony with the building materials, the landscape, and the architecture. Most prominently, the seven Corporal Works of Mercy (the seven practices of charity toward our neighbor, based on Christ’s prophecy of the Last Judgment) are carved into the limestone veneer of the building’s contemporary facade. Inspired by ancient cathedrals and colophons, Sasaki chose a serif typeface to soften the tone of the text and provide contrast to the chapel’s modernity. Varying degrees of shadow and light falling on the text during the day reveal and highlight the words, and the text becomes more dominant in the evening with the introduction of the building’s illumination.
A seating area outside the chapel provided another opportunity for environmental graphics, and Sasaki added to the contemplative nature of the space by casting the words of Psalm 23 into the concrete benches.
Environmental Graphic Design: Samuel A. Pease (lead designer); Brian Pearce (consulting designer); Katia Lucic, Bradford J. Prestbo, Pablo Nistal, Colin Booth (project designers)
Architecture/Landscape Architecture: Ricardo Dumont (principal in charge); Vinicius Gorgati (design principal); Cathy Bell (managing principal); John Hollywood (civil engineering principal); Katia Lucic, Pablo Nistal (project designers); Bradford J. Prestbo (project architect); Colin Booth, Grant Scott, Yu Wang, Ed Calamari (architects); Elke Berger, Gautam Sundaram (landscape architects)
Lanese Construction (general contractor), Strategic Building Solutions (coordination), Horton Lees Brodgen Lighting Design (lighting design)
Joe Capasso Masonry Enterprise (limestone carvings), BDPL (precast benches), Design Communications Ltd. (Stations of the Cross, ADA signage)
“Extremely well integrated and contextual. The carved letters are elegant and appropriate to the building and space, and become very powerful when illuminated at night. The cast letters in the benches lend a sense of peace and tranquility. Very well done.”
“Graphics and architecture merge to create a spiritual experience. The use of simple phrases attracts the viewer to quickly read the messages. Too often, this is attempted less effectively by adding too much verbiage that easily becomes preachy. The experience is just as powerful at night as during the day.”
“This environmental design scheme is comprehensive. It has integrity and is sophisticated and timeless.”