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The mission of St. Croix Lutheran High School in Minnesota is to “educate the total studentspiritually, intellectually, physicallyin a caring Christian family community.” Only recently did the school fulfill the spiritual component of its mission, after an anonymous donation secured the design and construction of a 10,000-square-foot chapel.
Rising alongside the campus’s existing low, brick 1950s building, the chapel symbolizes the school’s religious intent with its simple iconography, sculptural elegance, and resonate design elements of outreach and embrace. Through its transparency, the chapel serves as an ever-present beacon of light that acts as the school’s religious focus.
The exterior of the copper-clad chapel is marked by two light scoopsone at the entrance to the sanctuary, the other over the altarand terminates in a trinity of slightly curved walls. As the curved walls emanate from the building, their “movement” demarcated by floor-to-ceiling slot windows on either side, frame the cross. The juxtaposition of light and dark, solid and void, also emphasizes the cross’ importance. On either side the building, clerestory windows cap steel-and-glass curtain walls with copper fins that modulate the incoming light.
A sense of progression, enhanced at key moments by changing qualities of light, infuses the interior. The entry, defined by a lower roof ledge, signals the passage from outside to inside. In the vestibule, the first light scoop extends the space skyward while introducing a shaft of light to the space. Modulated light from the glass curtain walls washes through the sanctuary. The second light scoop spotlights the altar. The journey concludes at the cross, which is illuminated by light pouring through the space cutout around it and framed by indirect light emanating from the slot windows between the trinity of walls.
Overhead, the sanctuary’s steel-beamed structure was left exposedas Gothic vaulting wasin an expression of honesty that underscores a core principle of religious practice.
The baptismal font was designed in the shape of a segment of the River Jordan. For seating, the school selected individual chairs to reflect the dynamism and flexibility of the students; focus groups in a central location around the altar; and accommodate the chapel’s various uses. The chapel is not only used for the students’ daily religious instruction and worship; the building is also regularly reserved by the publicparticularly alumnifor weddings, baptisms, funerals, and occasionally as a concert hall.
Kodet Architectural Group, Ltd. recently received an AIA-MN Design Award for St. Croix Lutheran Chapel.