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No. 25: Oreon E. Scott Chapel

Issue 54 May / June 2010

In her final Built With Light column, Sharon Stammers ends her world tour exploring the best architecture that is built with light. This issue, Jorge Encarnacion has the last word about a small but perfectly formed chapel by Eero Saarinen

“Often, first impressions set the tone of an architectural experience. In selecting Oreon E. Scott Chapel, I am drawn back to my very first encounter with this symbolic space, which I consider to be truly ‘Built with Light’. Once inside the space, and just before my eyes fully adjusted to the visual play, as I approached the perimeter I vividly remember being inundated with the softest of the lights, to which I immediately responded with nods of excitement towards the architect’s ability to summarise visual elements used at MIT, except the obvious, a larger than life, purifying connection with ‘Light’. It shows how Saarinen controls the source of illumination to such extent that ‘Light’ itself becomes the one element, with which to captivate the audience and support the idea of [divinity] sought after in the 213 square metre non-denominational religious programme.”
Jorge Encarnacion

Jorge Encarnacion


Twenty-five Last Pages on and Built with Light is ending. We will let Jorge have the last word with his description of the small but perfectly formed (20 seats only) Oreon E. Scott chapel on the Drake University Campus in Iowa built in 1955. His description of the experience of entering Saarinen’s space captures exactly what this page has been about: our pure joy in finding ourselves in an architectural wonder that feels as if it has been constructed purely with or for Light.
What about the buildings that should have made it but no one nominated? In my humble opinion, there are many that I expected to be suggested. From James Turrell’s unfinished desert masterpiece, the Rodin Crater to the simpler House of Light in Niigata. Anything by the magical Tadao Ando: the Koshino House, the Church of Light, the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum, Komyo-ji temple, the Unesco Meditation Space. Alvar Aalto’s Finnish TB sanatorium, his academic bookshop and church in Riola di Vergato, Louis Kahn’s amazing constructions; the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Government Sector in Bangladesh, the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas. The marble windows at the Beinicke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. The Dana House, the Johnson Wax Building and Unity Temple by Frank Lloyd Wright. The coloured windows of the Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut and the monastery of Sainte-Marie-de-la-Tourette by Le Corbusier.  The coloured light of Rudolphs Steiner’s Goetheanum in Switzerland. Anything by relative newcomer Stephen Holl, the majesty of the Great Court in the British Museum, the glasshouses at Kew Gardens and one of my personal favourites - the intricate occuli of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris by Jean Nouvel. The list is long and every building mentioned worthy of taking this slot. Whether a building is a religious masterpiece, a classic architectural icon or a humble house, there will always be an element of a space that is centred around light.  Windows, penetrations, surface colour, texture and variations of glass all help to manipulate light within a building at the very simplest level to the most complex. To this end, every piece of architecture is built with light. A single shaft of sunlight modulated by coloured glass can be as powerful to us as a 30m high stained glass window. Light is an elixir vitae and our bodies are calibrated to the movement of the sun and the colour and variations of natural light. So as we have seen with every one of the 25 choices, buildings that invite in and celebrate light move us in a fundamental and magical way. But all good things come to an end eventually…

So to finish:
Let us build the building of Light
Push up the towers
To the cock-tops.
These are the pointings of our edifice,
Which, like a gorgeous palm,
Shall tuft the commonplace.
These are the window-sill
On which the quiet moonlight lies.
How shall we hew the sun,
Split it and make blocks,
To build a ruddy palace?
How carve the violet moon,
To set in nicks?
Let us fix portals, east and west,
Abhorring green-blue north and blue-green south.
Our chiefest dome a demoiselle of gold.
Pierce the interior with pointing shafts,
In diverse chambers.
Pierce, too, with buttresses or coral air
And purple timbers,
Various argentines,
Embossings of the sky.

Wallace Stevens – ‘Architecture’ 1918

A new look Last Page will follow in the next issue.



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