Today on midMOD monday- the Tuskegee University Chapel.
Constructed between 1967 and 1969, the Tuskegee Chapel is just one of those buildings that stays with you. It's daring, dynamic, and almost logic defying, a powerful symbol of spirituality comparable to Le Corbusier's Ronchamp chapel or MIT's chapel by Eero Saarinen. Challenging conventional notions of space and flow, the Tuskegee Chapel is a fluid form where light, movement, and mysticism shape the spiritual experience.
Designed by John Welch, Louis Fry (both Tuskegee graduates), and Paul Rudolph, the chapel with the hyperbolic paraboloid roof remains most striking in its use of bold fluctuating spaces accentuated by natural light beaming from a continuous band of skylights. The flat, red brick walls laid with red mortar seem to stand independently from the undulating ceiling that visually floats above the congregation. With no sense of confinement, the interior of the chapel has an almost celestial quality, as if the space can continue infinitely towards the heavens. Even though the chapel's floor is flat, the ceiling height varies, curving in opposite directions and giving movement to the large asymmetrical room. The two focal points of the sanctuary, a pulpit with an angled canopy and the elevated choir, act as counterpoints to the swirling space. Meanwhile, the exterior's intersecting planes of red brick foreshadow the interior's modern energy.
Clearly a space that should be experienced, the chapel's design is, perhaps, best described by Paul Rudolph himself:
When working on the Tuskegee Chapel, I suggested a continuous slot of glass around the perimeter just below the roof, so the natural light enters the sanctuary diagonally. The roof is hyperbolic paraboloid in form for acoustic reasons, and the space rises diagonally and escapes through glass. The directions of the movement of space are in opposite but balanced directions, which is largely responsible for the dynamic quality of the space. In addition, there is a varying velocity of the movement of space. The floor is almost level, but the ceiling height above the floor constantly changes, so that the space moves rapidly where the ceiling is high but more slowly where the ceiling is low. All of this must be imagined, so that there is a balance between opposite movements of space and light.
Excerpt from an interview with Peter Blake in Paul Rudolph: The Late Work by Roberto de Alba (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003).
And before a few more gorgeous photographs, a quick biographical note on Paul Rudolph- Rudolph studied architecture as an undergraduate at Alabama Polytechnic University (now Auburn University) before completing his graduate work with Walter Gropius at Harvard. The architect would return to Alabama for several commissions, including the Wallace Residence (1961-1965), the Kappa Sigma Fraternity House at Auburn University (1961), and the master plan for the Tuskegee Institute (now University) (1958).
Hope you enjoy this one as much as I do. Happy Monday!
Image at top:
Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. University Chapel, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama. Alabama, Tuskegee, United States, 2010. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2010637792.
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