Through considered, elegant design Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson of Stevens Lawson Architects have created a chapel that channels future thinking and design whilst respecting the past.

TEXT: BEA TAYLOR
PHOTOGRAPHY: MARK SMITH

One thing many churches in Europe have in common, apart from their holy significance, is their incredible architecture. The Sagrada Familia, the Duomo, Notre-Dame, Westminster Abbey, St Peter’s Basilica — the list can go on and on. These places of worship are thoughtfully and painstakingly, designed that, religious or not, visitors are left with a lasting impression.

Of course, something all these awe-inspiring buildings also have in common is their historic significance. But search closer to home and you’ll find a sprinkling of churches in New Zealand whose place in modern architecture is notable. Take a look at Christchurch’s Cardboard Cathedral or John Scott’s illustrious portfolio of work.

In fact, it was the latter’s path defining work on New Zealand church design that inspired Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson of Stevens Lawson Architects in their work for the new St Peter’s College Chapel. 

Their vision; to create a building that was functional as a place of worship for the college, but that also left a lasting impression on the young men who would use the building was paramount. As was honouring the nearly 2,000 years of history and culture that Catholicism represents, says Lawson.

An interior clad with white walls and pale oak delineates this space as simple and humble yet the thoughtful inclusion of gold and marble suggest a place with special significance. On entrance, the eye is immediately drawn to the altar, framed by slatted timber and a floor-to-ceiling window cut to represent the cross.

Stevens and Lawson designed the chapel in the shape of a diamond and the cross, the most potent and recognised symbol of Christianity, features at the point of this diamond. It can be observed externally and internally through the clever use of cutting it into the building itself. From the outside, the cross appears lit from within. Internally, it allows light to permeate into the chapel, directing it down the centre line of the assembly.

Without stained glass, stone and high-vaulted ceilings, this chapel encourages a sense of awe and respect of the divine through light, shape and simple, elegant design. “With this building, we have created an object of noble simplicity that will stand the test of time,” says Lawson. “It is forward-looking, but deeply respects the traditions it serves.”

Externally it presents a bold and sculptural form to the main public face of Khyber Pass, reminiscent of the Pope’s Mitre. However, internally, bold design is experienced through confident, pared-back execution. Together, it creates a place that’s significant, but in no way overbearing.

stevenslawson.co.nz

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