chapel of saint ignatius, steven holl

Designed by Steven Holl, the Chapel of Saint Ignatius was conceived as “…seven bottles of light in a stone box…” in reference to San Ignacio de Loyola’s vision of a spiritual life comprised of darkness and light, which he referred as consolations and desolations.

The chapel was built in 1997 and it is located in the campus of Seattle University in First Hill, Downtown Seattle. The main structure of the chapel was erected in twelve hours due to the use of tilt-up concrete walls. Such method of tilt-up construction is traditionally used where the repetition and mass production of panels guarantee speed, therefore cost-effectiveness. In contrast, every panel used at the chapel is unique. Each pre-cast concrete wall (“stone box”) has a distinct profile designed to interlock in order to form slits that let in natural light. In addition, the walls provide distinctive profiles from where a lightweight construction roof curves and contorts to form skylights (bottles of light) that allow in additional natural light. The light entering through the slits and skylights is filtrated by a mix of colored, translucent and transparent glass and it does not enter directly into the space. Curving walls serve as baffles where light bounce off. Each baffle has a complementary color to the color of the glass. The reflected light gets redirected towards the walls in a subtle — yet intense — way. All interior walls have been finished with a textured plaster and what seems at first as an odd design decision, once bathed in light, becomes clear to the keen observer.

The sketches below record my first two visits to the chapel. It was raining during my first visit so I could not experience the incidence of natural light entering through the skylights. On the second visit, however, the experience was completely different. When the reflected colored natural light structs the rugged texture of the interior plaster, it creates an optical illusion. Father Gerald T. Cobb S.J. refers to the light that enters the chapel as “…light that acts like liquid, an aqueous medium spilling across interior surfaces.” In truth, it is a difficult effect to describe but the chapel interiors bathed in light give a sense as if inhabiting a watercolor.

Steven Holl’s pursuit for phenomenological occurrences is well known. In his essay A Gathering of Different Lights he mentions “… to feel these physicalities is to become a subject of the senses.” Furthermore, he adds that… “an awareness of one’s unique existence in space is essential in developing a consciousness of perception.”

Entrance & Procession; view from the Narthex towards the Baptistry.

Baptistry. Inscribed at the edge of the baptismal font: “No barrier can divide where life unites: one faith, one fount, one spirt, makes one people.”

Main Sanctuary (view from baptistry)

Main Sanctuary (towards the altar)

Main Sanctuary (view from the altar)

Choir (looking towards the Main Sanctuary)

Processional corridor/Entrance

Holl assures us that “architecture holds the power to inspire and transform our day-to-day existence.” And while I do not claim that my sketches illustrate the phenomenon I experienced, they certainly give a sense of the spatial quality of the chapel. In fact, in my opinion, having examined Holl’s own watercolors for Saint Ignatius, they also fall short at representing the effect. However, whether intentional or not, the experience is there. Well done Holl.

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san francisco art institute

The campus of the San Francisco Art Institute in Russian Hill was designed in the 1920s by Bakewell and Brown, architects of the City Hall and the Coit Tower.

Later in 1969 Paffard Keatinge-Clay, who had worked in Le Corbusier’s atelier in 1948, designed the school’s addition. The program consists of additional art studios, classrooms, faculty and administrative offices, an auditorium; gallery spaces, and a cafeteria, among other programs. Except for the roof terrace (where the auditorium, cafe and gallery spaces are located) the addition sits below the existing complex’s main level due to the abrupt change in topography.

The structure resembles the Swiss-French master’s Carpenter Center at Harvard were béton brut, ramps, light canons, and brise soleils are integral elements of the composition.

However, in comparison to its East Coast precedent, one could argue that there are far less poetic licenses being present at the Institute. For example, at the Carpenter, the ramp is employed for the sole purpose of producing an architectural promenade. In other words [granting that the ramp at the Carpenter is, in fact, one of the main architectural elements offering unobstructed views of the building’s interior spaces; art galleries and studios] the ramp seems quite a gratuitous way to provide a shortcut through the structure and give access to a secondary entrance and ancillary programs.

Nevertheless, the secondary nature of the entrance, almost to justify the need for the ramp, stresses its excessiveness. In contrast, the ramp at the Art Institute not only stitches the interior spaces of the addition with the existing structure but also serves as a bridge that safeguards the abrupt change in topography.

Furthermore, at the Carpenter, the roof terrace or fifth façade is enjoyed solely by a private apartment for visiting faculty/artists. At Keatinge-Clay’s addition, the toit-jardín is –in contrast — the protagonist space. In true emulation of Le Corbusier’s ideas, the roof terrace at the Art Institute becomes a public square, a gathering space where multiple activities take place.

The main space of the terrace (represented on the last sketch and axonometric above) is enclosed on three sides by the main auditorium; an indoor and outdoor gallery space; and the cafeteria. In contrast to the enclosed nature of the existing courtyard, the roof terrace of the additional frame panoramic views of the city as it becomes the hierarchical space of the project.

Also, the roofs over the external gallery, cafe, and auditorium become accessible terraces and not only provide additional vantage points of the city but also allow for a diverse array of activities to occur simultaneously.

poetry foundation

These sketches were done a year after I first visited this place in 2015. (Please refer to a previous post below for that first visit.) https://anonymousarchitecture.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/the-poetry-foundation-by-john-ronan-architects/

It’s been almost four years since that first visit and three since I made these interior sketches. In retrospect, I still think this is one of the greatest buildings I have encountered in recent years.

Casa Vives, Ponce, Puerto Rico

A few years ago my wife Claudia Rosa-López and I led a group of students from Polytechnic University in documenting this house. With their set of drawings they earned a Third Place award at Peterson Prize, sponsored by the Historic American Building Survey of National Park Service. Today, the students’ drawings can be accessed at the Library of Congress site through this link: https://www.loc.gov/item/pr1528/

Built about 1860 and designed by French immigrant architect Juan Bertoli Calderoni, Casa Vives in Ponce, Puerto Rico is an outstanding example of a 19th-century Puerto Rican urban residence with commercial spaces on the ground floor and residential spaces above.

A few hours at the Kimbell Museum of Art

Designed in 1967 by architect Louis I. Kahn and finished in 1972 in collaboration with landscape architects Harriet Pattison and George Patton; and structural engineer August Komendant. 

The museum can be accessed through either the lawn and the beautiful mass of yaupon hollies trees out in the entrance courtyard or the rear parking lot (to the East) one story below the main floor. 

Either way you enter, the spatial sequence of the building is magnificently clearly laid out. 

The museum is comprised of 16 parallel halls covered by 20 feet wide by 100 feet long post-tensioned reinforced concrete shells (or vaults). Each thin vault is supported by four reinforced concrete columns which can be visible throughout the building. 

Entrance courtyard with yaupon hollies and opened porches that overlook the water pools. 

Main vestibule looking towards the northern courtyard and main stairs connecting to the Eastern vestibule. 

The interior curving shells have light slots that allows for natural light to enter the galleries. Stainless steel reflectors bounce the natural light difuminating it throughout the curving vaults illuminating the gallery interiors with a soft well-distributed natural light. 

Two tour days in Durham, NC; Vernacular Architectural Forum,VAF 2016

I was recently selected to present a paper on Field Notes during the Vernacular Architectural Forum, which took place the first week of June in Durham, North Carolina. As part of the event – as it is customarily – there are two intense days of touring around preselected areas to experience first hand vernacular examples and communities. 

Here are a few sketches I made during those days. 

West Grove Friends Meeting House (1915) Snow Camp, Alamance County

Old Brick Church [Clapp Church] (1813 original, reconstruction ca. 1840-1946)

Spatial axonometric, floor plan and section of Old Brick Church [Clapp Church] (1813 original, reconstruction ca. 1840-1946)

Mendenhall Store; Jamestown, Guilford County

Mendenhall Barn; Jamestown, Guilford County


O’Briant Grocery Store, 613 Holloway St. 


Lloyd House (1956); 126 Nelson St. 

Casa Klumb

The Klumb house, previously known as el Rancho Cody, was acquired by Henry Klumb in 1947. The house belonged to José Ramón Latimer and his wife Esther C. Cody who rented out rooms. In 1949 Klumb remodel the structure which was a traditional pitched-roof wood structure raised from the terrain with a surrounding balcony that opened directly towards the outside.

The intervention instead of consisting of additions to the original layout was more about subtraction as if adhering to Mies’ “less is more” predicament. Klumb eliminated — almost entirely — the enclosing walls to allow continuity between the public spaces of the house and the veranda. Thus, the living room (in the front) and the dinning room (at the back) — maintaining the original layout — were left completely open. The bedrooms remained partially enclosed and large operable pivoting windows allowed for privacy while allowing cross ventilation and when opened visual and physical connection with the balcony.

Klumb, his wife Else and their two children Peter and Richard lived in the house until 1984 when Klumb and Else died as a result of a car accident.

After their death, the house was acquired by the University of Puerto Rico in 1986, but was left abandoned to its current state of deterioration. In 1997 it was included as a Regional Monument in the National Register of Historic Places and in 2012 it was elevated to the status of National Monument by the same entity. In 2014 the house was included in the World Monuments Watch and in March Comité Casa Klumb was created to aid at the restoration of the structure.

Here are a few drawings I made during a visit to the Casa Klumb organized by the committee as part of a series of activities aimed at raising awareness of the house condition and its future restoration.

IMG_1791.JPG The living room

IMG_1792.JPG The dining room

IMG_1790.JPG The dining room table

IMG_1789.JPG floor plan and axon