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Chapel of St. Ignatius Honored by American Institute of Architects

Written by Tina Potterf

June 27, 2022

Chapel of St Ignatius Honored by American Institute of Architects

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

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AIA bestows prestigious Twenty-five Year Award upon the chapel, praising its architectural design and timelessness. 

The Chapel of St. Ignatius joins an illustrious list that includes Rockefeller Center, the Guggenheim Museum, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Grand Louvre Paris as a newly crowned winner of the Twenty-five Year Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The award is bestowed upon buildings that set a precedent and stand the test of time—and continue to set standards of excellence for architectural design and significance.

“I’m so pleased and proud that the AIA has honored the Chapel of St. Ignatius with its Twenty-five Year Award,” says Associate Professor and Chair of the Chapel Committee Jerry Cobb, S.J. “The Seattle University community has been abidingly grateful to (architect) Steven Holl and his team for imagining and fashioning such a remarkable sacred space in the heart of a secular city. The chapel has profoundly blessed our university and our city, drawing thousands of people to experience its luminous serenity.”

Widely considered the spiritual center of campus, the Chapel of St. Ignatius creatively combines traditional Catholic architectural elements with Jesuit traditions of questioning and discerning interior lights and shadows. The ever-shifting play of light within the chapel helps visitors, including students, ponder their own interior consolations and desolations.

It all began in 1991, when then-president William Sullivan, S.J., announced his plans for a chapel on campus dedicated to the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius. The university hired Steven Holl, a Bremerton-born, internationally acclaimed architect, to lead the project. Holl was captivated by Ignatian philosophy and challenged by the notion of how to translate light and darkness into a sacred space.

Built from 1994-97, the chapel’s design was guided by the concept of “A gathering of different lights.” From the outset, the chapel focused on the spiritual needs of students, whose contributions were central to the design process. 

“I think there has been more student input on this job than any other university project I have done,” Holl has said of the design process. Student feedback helped anchor the design and, according to Holl, the result was “a design that would be forward looking but anchored in the past.”

The concept had two meanings. It reflected the Ignatian idea of “discernment,” the sorting through of internal light and darkness—St. Ignatius termed them “consolations and desolations”—to achieve clear purpose in decision-making.

More than a physical landmark, the chapel has become part of the university’s identity. It embodies the university’s Jesuit and Catholic mission, reaching out to the non-Catholic community with interdenominational services and events. Living up to Holl’s vision of a “gathering of lights,” the chapel is open to people of all faiths.

“The Chapel of St. Ignatius has profoundly blessed our university and our city, drawing thousands of people to experience its luminous serenity,” says Father Cobb. “All of us at Seattle University have lived joyfully with the Chapel for the past twenty-five years and we look forward to its continuing role in shaping our lives.”

Read more about the Chapel’s 25th anniversary, including memories shared by chapel visitors over the years. 

Learn more about AIA’s Twenty-Five Year Award.

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