The octagonal St. Michael Chapel is first glimpsed through trees and lawn by passersby along a busy city street. Whether seen from afar or from inside, regardless of time or season, its stained glass is always animated and changing.
Even when viewed from the street, reflective German opal glass shimmers and glows, welcoming visitors throughout day and night. From within the gathering area, the stained glass beckons from the end of a long, axial sequence. Upon finally entering the chapel, the stained glass enfolds worshipers with heraldic bands of red glass that flows from window to window.
The glass palette insures ever-changing interest in the windows during day and night throughout the seasons. Atmospheric, abstract imagery rises like incense imparting a prayerful feeling of quiet and sanctuary. With the exception of the Immaculate Heart and Sword of St. Michael Windows, the Chapel’s stained glass functions as an abstract meditative backdrop surrounding the Chapel’s main focus: the Tabernacle.
Deeper, saturated color in lower sections represents worldly, physical existence while providing a sense of intimacy and separation within. The gradual upward transition into palest, finally colorless glass symbolizes God and a higher spiritual plane that also anticipates the clear glazing in the cupola above. The lighter glass also insures unexpected views to landscape and sky. Worshipers are encouraged to participate in the creative process by finding personal meaning in the window’s abstract designs.
The two smallest windows contain more representational imagery. Immaculate Heart acknowledges the church’s namesake. “St. Michael’s Sword”, honors the patron saint of the chapel itself with a flaming sword rising up and over the entrance to meet similar flames rising from “Immaculate Heart”.
Committee members unanimously hoped the chapel would become a sparkling landmark announcing “Immaculate Heart Church” (previously often missed by first-time visitors zipping past on the street). This meant that the stained glass had to function in all lighting conditions, 24/7. Some of the more literal-minded members understood the need for a quiet non-representational backdrop to the featured tabernacle, but still desired more representational footholds into the stained glass. Besides “Immaculate Heart” and “St. Michael”, a number of references to angels, butterflies, wheat, grapes, etc. can be found along with prisms sprinkling “God’s gifts on sunny days.
The architect and liturgical design consultant both had some very practical expectations for the stained glass. With such a high proportion of “window” in this very exposed chapel, it was critical that a sense of separation from the busy world beyond be achieved while enhancing the quality of light within the space. In addition, this was a “fast track” project, so it became paramount to coordinate very closely with the extended design team, contractors and owner. We started fabricating stained glass before the foundation was poured. (The stained glass was completed ahead of schedule and EVERYTHING FIT PERFECTLY!)
Hard to photograph, but equally hard to miss in person is the kaleidoscopic nature of the St. Michael Chapel. Because of its octagonal shape and intimate scale, when walking around the outside of the chapel, it is possible to see through two or more windows at once. On sunny days, the rising and setting sun project light and color through one window onto another window often back out the other side. The stained glass palette was selected to insure interest and animate in all lighting conditions, but this configuration takes that concept to a whole new level.
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CODA: Collaboration of Design + Art
The global online community that celebrates design projects featuring commissioned artworks.
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Art matters. Attention to the details of our environment leads to love of place, which brings us to take responsibility for the spaces where we live and work. And by extension, the people with whom we live and work. And by extension, to our local communities, our cities, our nations, and our world.
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Architects and designers know that remarkable design can change everything. They connect the dots across disciplines, collaborating with artists to make the world a more beautiful place. They are the ultimate patrons of the arts.
In the process, design professionals promote imagination and creativity, and through their commissions, make original art integral to and accessible in people's lives.
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