Skip to comments.A Hothouse Chapel in Hurricane Alley ("Ugly As Sin" At Ave Maria U.)
Posted on 03/26/2004 6:36:22 AM PST by Pyro7480
This week Ave Maria University announced detailed plans for a proposed chapel on its newly-founded campus near Naples, Florida. Requiring three thousand tons of structural steel and aluminum, the 60,000-square-foot glass-skinned church is set to be the nations largest. Unfortunately, the design unveiled by school officials is an impractical eyesore.
Although its floor plan is vaguely reminiscent of a basilica-style church, the unsightly structure otherwise breaks with the history and tradition of Catholic church architecture while tipping its hat to some of the more avant-garde Protestant productions of recent decades. Moreover, it consciously avoids any connection to the rich Spanish mission style so common to Florida for several centuries.
Not only is it ugly, it is certain to be an embarassment to an otherwise promising Catholic institution of higher learning. Quite obviously the chapel is inconsistent with Ave Marias reputation for embracing authentic Catholic culture and tradition.
The proposed church is perhaps most reminiscent of Sir Joseph Paxtons Crystal Palace, the enormous hall designed to house Londons Great Exhibition of 1851. Constructed entirely of cast iron and glass, the Palace was the largest structure to be built of prefabricated units up to that time. It is generally recognized by architectural historians as the forerunner of industrial construction that has produced many of the unseemly behemoths of the twentieth century. Paxton was a horticulturist, landscape gardener and greenhouse architect. Not coincidentally, his masterpiece resembled a giant hothouse.
Alack, the same can be said of Ave Marias proposed church. The 60-foot red-tinted glass cross embedded within the transparent front façade does little to reassure one that this filigree structure isnt a conservatory full of insectivorous plants and steaming compost piles. In fact, the proposed structure should nicely suit the purpose of cultivating exotic plants out of season. After all, hothouses are designed to be, well, hot. Considering the blistering heat and humidity that characterizes the climate in southern Florida much of the year, a glass building is about as impractical as it getsnot for plants but for people. (Has no one considered the incredible impact of solar heat gain?) Add to that the fact that Ave Marias new campus is sprouting in Hurricane Alley, and youve got to wonder if this isnt an early April Fools joke.
One call to the university assured me that this is no joke. Its the real thingand theyre moving ahead with the project come heat or hurricanes. The chapel is expected to be completed in 2006 along with much of the rest of the new campus.
Ave Maria seems to be making a fuss over the shear enormity of the proposed church. According to a March 24 press release, university officials boasted that the new chapel "will have [the] largest seating capacity of any Catholic church in the country" as well as "the largest crucifix in the world."
The largest crucifix in the world? Come now. If that doesnt smack of megalomania, I dont know what does. And why on earth would a small Catholic school with 122 students knocking around 1,000 acres in the remote swamplands of Florida needor wantto accommodate a whopping 3,300 people? Why would petite Ave Maria aim for more seating than New Yorks St. Patricks Cathedral or Cardinal Mahonys celebrated Yellow Armadillo in L.A., both of which serve as the spiritual centerpiece of archdioceses that serve millions of Catholics?
Well, it just so happens that seed money for the mega-project was provided by Thomas S. Monaghan, former owner of the Detroit Tigers and founder of Dominos Pizza. Mr. Monaghan, a generous philanthropist, tends to think big. But one must understand that bigger is not necessarily better nor even desirable.
Wouldnt it make much more sense for a fledgling school like Ave Maria to build a well-designed, modest-sized chapel for its community? (See Thomas Aquinas College for an excellent example.) After all, who in his right mind would donate even a dollar to a newly established university that appears to be blowing money like a drunken sailor? Three thousand tons of structural steel dont come cheap.
Given the fact that Ave Maria touts its mission and its curriculum as being steeped in Catholic culture and tradition, its architecture (especially that of a sacred building) deserves to match that right-headed philosophy. Wouldnt it make sense to patronize one of the architects who has been responsible for the recent renewal of sacred architecture in this country? Despite their major accomplishments in the design of beautiful Catholic churches, architects such as Duncan Stroik, Thomas Gordon Smith, Dino Marcantonio, and Henry Menzies werent even as much as invited to compete for this project. Two of these men also have campus chapels on their list of credits. Stroik is responsible for the Thomas Aquinas Colleges beautiful new chapel and Thomas Gordon Smith designed the seminary for the Fraternity of St. Peter in Denton, Nebraska. Due in no small part to these talented Catholic architects, many are waking up to the fact that the churches designed and built in the latter half of the twentieth century have miserably failed the Catholic people. Why then settle for an ugly Goliath of a structure that will look dated even before its 3,000 tons of structural steel are sheathed in hothouse glass?
A suggestion to Ave Maria: This proposed chapel design is an error so egregious that it requires immediate attention. Dump these hideous plans. Hire a new architect, and start afresh, this time with an eye toward creating a beautiful house of God rather than simply an enormous one. (See my book Ugly As Sin for a few pointers.) Otherwise your school risks losing its hard-earned credibility. Your university is a promising one. Dont mar your reputation with such an impractical eyesore.
Michael S. Rose is the author a several books including on church architecture including Ugly As Sin. His forthcoming book In Tiers of Glory: A History of Catholic Church Architecture in 100 Pages is due out in November. He is editor of Cruxnews.com.
I didn't even think of it that way! Thanks! Monaghan needs to spend his money a little better!
Who's "we"? As I recall, this university is being built with Tom Monaghan's money, so it likely reflects his arrogance.
This is the same man that erected a massive cross in the countryside of Michigan, I believe.
This church is an "in your face", no matter how non-functional it might be.
Who's "we"? As I recall, this university is being built with Tom Monaghan's money, so it likely reflects his arrogance.Many of us have fundraising letters from Ave Maria sitting here and there in our house. Monaghan provided most of the seed money, but of course seed money is just the beginning of what they need. This university is supposedly a conservative orthodox university. It will flop if they chose to ignore the smaller donors, most of whom will be repulsed by taking all their money and building a greenhouse. Donations will dry up, some people will lose interest in the new university, etc.
Moreover, it consciously avoids any connection to the rich Spanish mission style so common to Florida for several centuries.
Spanish Mission style??? Better look at the rest of the campus buildings. Except for this chapel, it would seem that they went to great lengths to make every building on campus look as if Frank Lloyd Wright had designed them himself. A Spanish Mission style chapel would be as out of place on this campus among all the FLW looking buildings as this chapel is.
It seems they have created a dilemma for themselves. F.L. Wright's architectural style does not lend itself to churches or cathedrals easily. And other styles seldom go with FLW's style.
I do think this building is ugly, just out of place. Very out of place.
Correction: I do not think this building is ugly
It would appear that this chapel was designed with Guinness's book of records in mind, and not liturgical ideals.
Pot, kettle, black. You don't know much about a man who has risen from such humble beginnings and whose faith is much stronger than yours will ever be. Once again, deacon, you've confirmed to us that you're a fool.
A fine institution like this Ave Maria doesn't deserve a modernist monstrosity like this.
I suppose you like this monstrosity of a church?
Monoghan can do whatever he wants with his money, but building a glass structure in a hot, hurricane-prone area reflects very poorly on his judgment.
All the warmth of a modern office building or shopping mall. Inappropriate design!