(excerpt from Architect magazine June 2007)
Christian Science Reading Room
by Amanda Kolson Hurley
For members of a religious denomination that prizes outreach and engagement with the wider world – hence it’s signature publication, the Christian Science Monitor - the Greenwich Village home of New York’s Tenth Church of Christ Scientist, posed a problem.
A six story building on MacDougal Street had belonged to the Church since the 1920’s. The building received a startling facelift in 1966 when the façade was bricked over, leaving only one narrow slit of a window. The chapel inside was invisible from the street and the reading room - meant to be a welcoming space - was sad and cramped, tucked into a corner. Thus the decision in 2005 to hire an architect and reinvent their space.
Two church members were searching for architects online and came across a book by hMa, designing with light. They loved it, and in 2005 the church approached hMa principals Thomas Hanrahan and Victoria Meyers. Andrea McCormick, the Church’s manager, says that they clinched the commission during the first interview. “They just got it. We were at their offices; they pulled out a book, opened to a picture, and said, ‘something like this?’ I said, ‘That’s it.’ It was a picture of Le Corbusier’s 1954 masterpiece, Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France. Meyers had compared Ronchamp to a church designed by mathematician and architect Guarino Guarini as an architecture student.
Guarini seemed a natural model for Meyers who is fascinated by higher mathematics. She started the project with the concept of a space defying clear limits, exemplified by geometric figures like a hypercube, an infinity sign, and a Mobius strip. The goal was to ‘push’ surfaces so that the space turned into something more interesting than a box'.
Visitors to the new Christian Science Reading Room will see the church’s new Infinity Chapel, its double-height, curved back wall refracting light from the courtyard beyond, allowing more light in through large skylights. The viewer’s sightline will stretch all the way to the bamboo-planted courtyard. At night the plane of the chapel ceiling will be washed with light, and the entire space will glow.
When the new reading room and Infinity Chapel are finished, McCormick predicts, “It’ll be intriguing enough that (people) will come in and say, ‘What is this all about?’ Anyone even interested in design will want to come in and see this incredible space.”
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