Prayer Pavilion of Light
December 19, 2011
*all images courtesy of Architectural Record
Six days away from Christmas morning seemed, to this Denver architect, like a perfect time to review a piece of spiritual architecture. As a Christian myself, I look for spiritual significance in architecture I come in contact with. I recently came across a peace of architecture I thought was very profound and fitting; the Prayer Pavilion of Light designed by DeBartolo Architects.
The Prayer Pavilion of Light was built in Phoenix, Arizona, where a pavilion makes perfect sense. The client was intent on creating a "refuge for reflection"; a place to go to meditate, a space mostly lacking in the hustle and bustle of our cities today. The architect, who had developed the master plan with the church, helped to design this chapel in 2003.
The client wanted the pavilion to not only provide great views of the city but also to stand prominent and highly visible. The first thing that was done was to elevate the chapel on the site. And second the architects isolated the building from other structures by creating courtyards that border the chapel. The approach to the pavilion is a zigzagging path that ascends twenty-eight vertical feet, passing through a landscaped plaza, past a seventy foot long reflecting pool and a massive steel cross that compliments the structure.
The structure itself seems to float because the portion of the building which intersects the ground is black concrete and folding glass walls that help eliminate the distinction of inside and out.
Materials were an important consideration in meeting the goal of visibility as well. Typical southwestern architecture makes use of thick stucco walls and clay tile roofs to help insulate buildings from the desert heat. The solution was to create a structure of glass, a material that completely contrasts with the indigenous architecture. Glass in the desert would typically be very inefficient, but the architects got creative and designed a double facade that protects the interior from the hot and arid climate. The inner system is a triple-glazed system while the exterior façade is a fritted glass to give the chapel a more aesthetically pleasing veneer. The gap between the two layers acts as a convection chimney, venting heat through louvers at the top of the wall.
A final consideration the architects needed to keep in mind was the pavilion would be open to the public, twenty-four hours a day. So the chapel's impact at night was of high importance. The use of glass to make the chapel stand out worked well in helping it stand out at night. Throughout the year, different colored LEDs illuminate the pavilion from the inside, making it a beacon of light to the surrounding communities.
Christ's birth, which we celebrate next Sunday, brought light into the world during one of its darkest times. The Prayer Pavilion of Light is doing its best, as a piece of spiritual architecture, to bring light to a single community. It is a place for prayer and meditation in a very frenzied world.