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Inside look: College chapels

No longer just worship spaces, these buildings on school campuses are technology-rich, multifunctional and welcoming to all
University Business, March 2017
  • A 55-foot-tall Dobson mechanical tracker organ stands as the crown jewel of the University of Tampa’s $20 million Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values, which was completed in 2010. The organ—with more than 3,100 pipes—was custom-designed to resonate perfectly within the space. Architect: tvsdesign (Atlanta); construction company: Peter R. Brown Construction (Clearwater, Florida)
  • In 2016, the Jeremiah Chapel at Cedarville University in Ohio underwent technological renovations: installation of a Meyer speaker array, bigger video screens and better camera, and a projection rail on the balcony. Architects: Design Group (Columbus), Architectural Resources (Dayton); other project team members: Acoustics by Design (Grand Rapids, Michigan), Series Seating (Miami, Florida), Danis (Dayton), Ketchum & Walton (Columbus), Dayton Walls & Ceilings (Dayton), and Pro Sound (Miami, Florida)
  • Baylor University’s 3,000-square-foot, $1.9 million Elliston Chapel has no fixed seating; chairs can be arranged as needed, providing flexibility for use by other campus groups and organizations. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow natural light to flood in, and up to 125 guests can be accommodated comfortably.Architect: RBDR PLLC (Waco, Texas); construction firm: John Erwin Construction (Waco); stained glass: Foster Stained Glass (Bryan, Texas)
  • The University of the Ozarks in Arkansas added a 7,400-square-foot student spiritual development center as part of a $2.75 million renovation of the Munger-Wilson Chapel. Students can relax, meet or study in groups, or engage in spiritual discussion or activities. The center, although affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, welcomes students of all faiths. Architect: JKJ Architects (Rogers, Arkansas); construction: East Harding Construction (Little Rock, Arkansas)
  • The Dorothy Marron University Community Chapel at Georgian Court University in New Jersey hosts worship services, small prayer groups, alumni weddings and larger celebrations. The $12 million chapel features a vaulted ceiling, pendant lighting, floor-to-ceiling windows and movable seating for up to 150. Guests of any faith enjoy peaceful views of the institution’s Japanese garden on one side and Lake Carasaljo on the other. Architect and construction manager: H2L2 Architecture (Philadelphia)
  • On the lower level of the $7.2 million Our Lady of Mercy Chapel of Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island is The Mercy Center for Spiritual Life, which provides less-formal space. The center hosts people of all beliefs “to engage in a lively and respectful practice of their faith.” Architects: Robert A.M. Stern Architects (New York), Richard Quinn (Middletown, Rhode Island); construction manager: Farrar Associates (Newport, Rhode Island)
  • Christ Chapel was the first dedicated chapel space in Cornerstone University’s 75-year history. “The transcendence of God,” embodied in the soaring ceilings and infusion of natural light, anchors the design of this $15.8 million facility on the Grand Rapids, Michigan, campus. The use of natural light is also eco-friendly and a cost saver for the chapel. Architect: GMB Architecture and Engineering (Holland, Michigan); construction manager: Christman Construction (Lansing, Michigan)
  • The St. Katharine Drexel Chapel at Xavier University in Louisiana features extensive natural light. Xavier’s $8 million octagonal chapel has a ceiling lined with a perforated metal screen that filters sunlight and represents the starry heavens. A smaller day chapel, surrounded by a meditation garden, is accessible from the main chapel. Architect: Pelli Clark Pelli Architects (New Haven, Connecticut); construction: Landis Construction Company (New Orleans)
  • The Chanen Interfaith Chapel at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona features a “river of life” and community table in the form of a tree. Architect: DWL Architects & Planners Inc. (Phoenix, AZ). Hogan Studios (Crescent City, CA), ISEC Inc. (Mesa, AZ), The Ken Watson Corp. (Phoenix), Chanen Construction Co. (Glendale), One Way General Contractors (Mesa), Tibbetts Glass and Aluminum Inc. (Tempe, AZ), Western Millwork Inc. (Phoenix), Wilkinson Floor Covering (Tempe)
  • The University of Tampa’s Sykes Chapel includes a contemporary meditation room that features an inlaid multiwood labyrinth floor that is available for students, faculty and staff. The labyrinth is a metaphor for a spiritual journey, and can be explored by members of any faith.

Trends in campus chapels mirror those of places of worship in general: New and renovated spaces are becoming more tech-enabled and multifunctional, with added emphasis on creating a gathering place for an entire community, regardless of religious denomination.

Echoing national shifts, organized religion is becoming less prominent on campus. In 2015, 29.5 percent of incoming freshmen defined themselves as agnostic (8.3 percent), atheist (5.9 percent) or “none” (15.4 percent).

Compared to 2014, this represents a 2 percent decline in the number of students identifying with a specific religion, according to “The American Freshman: National Norms, Fall 2015” report from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA.

Despite the decline, higher ed institutions continue to build and renovate spaces where students can observe their religions and seek spiritual guidance. The facilities can also host a variety of non-religious activities, such as concerts.

“What I’m seeing from churches is that they are becoming very much a community space,” says Alison Istnick, managing editor of Worship Facilities Magazine. “So while churches in the past have gone with raised flooring and permanent, theater-style seating, what we’re seeing now is floors that are flat and movable chairs.”

This flexibility provides opportunities for income as campus chapels can be rented by off-campus organizations or for weddings.

Institutions are also creating community spaces outside of the chapel itself. Foyers, sanctuaries and entrances have become common areas, with more casual furniture—much of which includes USB ports and device-charging capabilities.

By developing more social and spiritual areas rather than strictly religious ones, it encourages all students to visit.

At both public and private Christian-based institutions, where ministry is part of everyday life, chapels are seeing significant technological upgrades.

“LED lighting is a very big feature these days,” says Istnick. “Many churches are using it for house lighting now. It is fully dimmable, saves money, and can create different moods with color-changing options.”

The latest in digitally controlled A/V systems is now present in chapels. High-quality speakers and monitors, as well as Wi-Fi and digital signage, feature prominently in new and renovated facilities.