WE WANT VISITORS TO BREATHE IN,
FIND PLACES TO STOP AND THINK,
PRAY AND FEEL CLOSER TO GOD
The concept itself is simple: create a place for people to come and find peace. That’s it. No fan-fare, no hubbub, but a place of hope and healing, quiet contemplation and a sense of connectedness. The design and technology aspects of this project are exciting and innovative to be sure, but our goal is to create a sacred space that will last. Whether you walk the park above or descend slowly to the Chapel beneath, we want visitors to breathe in, find places to stop and think, pray and feel closer to God.
The site is located on Ebenezer Church Road, adjacent to Umstead Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, on a sloped terrain with a beautiful forest next to Richland Creek. While the Chapel itself will exist 15 meters underground, there will be a landmark tower in the park above that has multiple functions, including holding the chapel bells and bringing light and ventilation to the interior.
Creating an underground Chapel is not like building a home, school, church or museum above ground to say the least, yet the goal of Ebenezer Chapel is to exhibit some sort of all these things. We hope it will teach, inspire and attract visitors who are interested in our particular time in history, our technology, our lives and our faith.
One of the most important aspects of architecture (and often what we learn first) is the technology used in the construction. We marvel at the Egyptian pyramids and how Brunelleschi defined and engineered the dome for Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. The Ebenezer Chapel team believes the technology we employ will be an extremely important message for future generations. We’re using computer modeling techniques to optimize the natural properties of the rock in terms of structure, natural lighting, acoustics and ventilation. Geological studies will be used to create an underground space that structurally only requires the existing stone, functions with natural light, has natural fresh air ventilation without HVAC and enables the acoustics of a perfectly tuned musical instrument.
The exterior landscaping will incorporate references to Biblical plants, and approximately 120 of the 140 plants mentioned in the Bible will be planted on the Ebenezer Chapel site. The different species will populate different landscapes of the property with various colors, smells and textures providing multiple experiences for those who want to wander the park area before or after visiting the Chapel underground.
As for the excavation itself, the main design challenge was how to reach the level of rock layer creating an experience for visitors that will allow them to quiet their minds before entering to the sacred hollowed space below. To do that, we’ll place the main access at the lowest area of the property next to the creek. From this entrance, that’s shape is similar to the cochlea of the human ear, a continuous ramp will slope down along the site and around the space of the Chapel into the foyer that provides the entrance to the Chapel.
The position of the Chapel is parallel to the natural slope of the terrain with its main access to the east. The descending ramp wraps up the chapel space creating light and an experience of the natural elements that help to prepare one’s eyes and mind for the main space. As the natural light levels slowly decrease, the stone texture will become more prevalent through the use of corten steel sheets. The raw nature of the excavated stone will blend with the softness and control of the light at every moment as visitors slowly make their way down.
After an ambling and, we hope, contemplative walk down to the Chapel, travelers enter a space that will seat 250 people. Above the alter will be a skylight just below the exterior tower bringing in natural light to the large expanse.
One single stone vault will embrace the space. Just as the exterior tower will signal to visitors that there is a park for wandering and recreation, that same tower will penetrate the earth, traveling down into the Chapel space itself. Structurally and spiritually, the metaphor is of being grounded while still connected to what is above. Neither the descending ramp nor the chapel space has right angles and this reinforces the importance of the experience of natural materials and light. It also opens the mind to the infinite, showing us that God works with all manner of materials, cultures, people and circumstances to make the works in His image and for His glory.
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