Blessed Sacrament Chapel

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Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Abbey Church Pavilion | Notes of Interest

In the 1950s, Marcel Breuer began his work with the Benedictine monastic community in Collegeville, Minnesota. Over the next 20 years, Breuer designed 10 buildings constructed largely of cast-in-place concrete. His use of austere, simple, textural materials responded to Benedictine values that emphasize simplicity, moderation, and finding spirituality in the ordinary events of everyday life.

In 2000 the abbey selected VJAA to modify the church and monastic Chapter House, requiring that the work be architecturally significant yet sympathetic to the church. The monastic community also wanted the Abbey Church complex to be more open and accessible to the greater Saint John's community.

The renovation fashioned two new openings in the existing concrete wall of the church to create an intimate chapel, visible from the church, for daily devotions. The sanctuary lamp is in an opening in the wall, signifying the presence of the Eucharist. The new chapel is lined in oak slats that emulate the texture of Breuer’s millwork as well as the formwork patterns in the church’s concrete but uses a natural finish to create its unique identity within the church. At the center of the chapel, a reinterpretation of the 14th-century reredos wall filters light from a single existing exterior window. The wall is composed of 40 oak blocks with asymmetrically tapered surfaces, stacked on nickel-plated steel plates.

The addition creates a new accessible entry and connection directly from the parking area and from the new guesthouse. The addition’s new two-level lobby and elevator provide access to the Lower Church and new support spaces. Priorities for the Chapter House circulation included a convenient and sheltered public entrance for visitor drop-off and deliveries and a new stair that accesses the lower Parish Church. The project also incorporates new restrooms, art gallery space, bride’s and groom’s rooms, and a staging area for catering. A new tunnel connection from the addition to the 30-room guesthouse provides accessible circulation and a heated, sheltered route in inclement weather.

Photo Credit

  • © Paul Crosby Studio

Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Abbey Church Pavilion

  • Architect: VJAA
  • Owner: St. John's Abbey
  • Location: Collegeville, Minnesota

Jury Comments

This project involves modest yet beautifully sensitive modifications to a heroic modernist building.

It respects and enhances the spirit and values of the Benedictine monks embodied in the original building while responding to a new set of goals for the religious community and a variety of code and system-related improvements.

The new work is deferential but also distinct. In contrast to the raw and monumental forms of the original building, the additions combine minimalist strategies of form with materials that are rich and intimate.

The design is completely in service of church rituals, functional requirements, and opportunities for light and view.

More about Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Abbey Church Pavilion.

2013 Institute Honor Awards for Interior Architecture Jury

  • Andrew Wells, FAIA (Chair)
  • Dake Wells Architecture, Springfield, Missouri
  • Susan H. Jones, FAIA
  • Atelierjones, LLC, Seattle
  • Carlos M. Martinez, AIA
  • Gensler, Chicago
  • Ronald J. McCoy, FAIA
  • Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  • Catherine M. Truman, AIA
  • Ann Beha Architects, Boston

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