Bulter Rogers Baskett Architects (BRB) has renovated the Johnson Chapel at the Trinity School, the 300-year old college preparatory, coeducational, independent day school on New York’s Upper West Side. The 1,000 square foot chapel will support a variety of activities, including regular services, memorials, religion classes, and talks by speakers from various religious traditions. The Johnson Chapel provides a place of repose amidst the vibrant bustle of school life.
The Chapel was recently honored with an AIA New York Chapter “2010 Design Award” for outstanding interior, one of only thirty-four overall winners in four different categories. Additionally, the Chapel has won a 2009 Society of American Registered Architects (SARA) Professional Design Award, an Award of Merit in New York Construction’s “Best of 2009” competition and an Interior Design “Best of Year 2009” Award in the institutional category.
BRB’s design methodology has been one of subtraction, refinement and integration. Natural light is introduced by a light slot along the north wall, reflecting diffuse warm sunlight deep into the space. This wall becomes an ever changing canvas throughout the day as a cool indirect morning light transforms to cast Mediterranean shadows at noon and later emanates a warm afternoon glow. The light slot is mirrored on the floor with a bed of river rock and a gently bubbling stone fountain, which lend texture, shadow, sound, and detail to the crisp white backdrop. The ceiling plane floats, disengaged from perimeter walls, and is lit indirectly, creating a cloud-like effect. The design reinforces this effect by keeping the surface unencumbered by light fixtures, access panels, diffusers, smoke detectors and other systems. The cloud is punctured by a large light cone, which gathers light and spills it around the altar table.
A displacement ventilation system introduces conditioned air at very low velocity through the bed of river rock, filling the occupied portion of the room much as water fills a bathtub. The warm “used” air is extracted via the reveal at the edge of the ceiling cloud, resulting in a healthy, efficient, and extremely quiet system with no visual access to diffusers or grilles.
Doors, seating, lighting, hymnal slots and a sound system are carefully integrated into a wide ribbon of woodwork, which wraps two sides of the space. The figured Maple ribbon creates and intimacy and provides a warm counterpoint to the crisp perfection of the plasterwork. The spare material palette includes a walnut plank floor, white river rock and several blackened steel elements designed by local artisan Kristina Kozak. Kozak collaborated with BRB in creating five hand-worked candelabra and the custom door pull. The hand hammered blackened steel crucifix, also designed by Kozak, is easily removable and can be hung on a custom armature in the sacristy.
Since its opening in January 2009, the Johnson Chapel has found unplanned uses, including meditation, yoga and pilates, and is often visited by individuals seeking a moment of pause in their day. It is a sacred place of serenity, light and balance, where people of all traditions are welcome.