Chapel of St. Ignatius
Steven Holl Architects
Seattle University, Washington, 1997

Chapel of St. Ignatius


Church of the Light

All Saints Margaret Street

Tokyo Church of Christ


Steven Holl describes the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University very simply: a stone box, containing seven bottles of light.  St. Ignatius, the university Jesuit founder, was Holl’s inspiration for the design of the chapel.  The saint’s writings described spiritual life as a series of lights and darknesses and used the metaphor of a light that comes from above as a manifestation of the divine.  The design of the chapel incorporates skylights and pigmentation, to create seven different qualities of light, corresponding to different programmatic elements:

1. Procession – natural sunlight
2. Narthex – natural sunlight
3. Nave – yellow field with blue lens (east); blue field with yellow lens (west)
4. Blessed Sacrament – orange field with purple lens
5. Choir – green field with red lens
6. Reconcilation Chapel – purple field with orange lens
7. Bell Tower and pond – projecting reflecting night light

The chapel takes into account the processional aspect of Catholic liturgy, beginning outside the building with the bell tower that marks the entrance into the sacred area.  One moves up a subtle ramp past the reflecting pool and into the chapel itself.  Inside, the ramping continues into the nave, where the colourful light arrests all in their tracks.  The arrangement of the nave is a bit of compromise, a necessary evil in collaborative design: the chaplaincy of the university sought a more modern worship-in-the-round format, while the students sought to continue the procession to the altar.  What results is an auditorium-style seating arrangement, curving slightly around the raised altar, but with clearly defined aisles for movement. 

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Side panel: GA Document 53, Dec. 1997, cover.
Figure 1: Edwin Heathcote, Church Builders, (Chichester: Academy Editions, 1997), p. 190.
Figure 2: GA Document 53, Dec. 1997.

Page by: Michelle Chan, M.Arch.I (M1), McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Last modified: March 5, 2000