(A rendering of the Philip Johnson-designed chapel
An interesting story submitted last week by Propeller Scout Tim Loftis concerned the groundbreaking for the Interfaith Peace Chapel in Dallas, Texas. Designed by noted architect Philip Johnson, who passed away in 2005, the chapel is on the campus of the Cathedral of Hope, a congregation serving gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals.
Johnson is known for his Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut and for his work with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe on New York's Seagram Building. The Cathedral of Hope commissioned him to create a master plan, one that would encompass 11 acres in Dallas, in 1995.
With 3,500 members, the Cathedral of Hope had been looking to move to a bigger church, according to David Plunkett, spokesman for the congregation. Accordingly, Johnson's master plan included not only the 175-seat chapel but a 2,200-seat cathedral, as well as the John Thomas Memorial Bell Wall, an AIDS memorial that was constructed in 1998. At a 1996 press conference in New York City, Johnson called the Cathedral of Hope project "the finest job I've ever had in my life."
"In the first place, I have waited all my life to design a church, but this is a big civic statement, a big urban statement, a big emotional statement of us," he noted at the conference. "This will be the thing by which I intend to be memorialized."
With its striking curves and slopes, the Interfaith Peace Chapel was inspired in part by works of sculpture, according to principal architect Alan Ritchie at Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects, who attended Sunday's groundbreaking. "Johnson wanted to create new ideas, and clients don't always want that," said Ritchie. "In this instance, the client was very receptive... and Johnson very much liked this project."
Accepted into the United Church of Christ (UCC) last year, the Cathedral of Hope is the fourth-largest congregation in the denomination. (By way of comparison, the average Presbyterian congregation in 2005 numbered 212.) An anomaly in largely conservative Texas, the church, which is located in a predominately Hispanic section of Dallas, was founded in 1970 by a group of 12 people. The church formally changed its name to the Cathedral of Hope in 1990.
"As a community of faith, our theology is more liberal than progressive," says Plunkett. "The Bible is a guiding ministry, [but] unlike fundamental Christians, we don't believe it's the inherent word of God. It was written more than 2,000 years ago for a different people."
Scheduled to be finished sometime in 2009, the Interfaith Peace Chapel will serve as an intimate venue for weddings, as well as for occasionally contentious religious discussions. ("Too often, religion can be a dividing point rather than a point where people come together," Plunkett concedes.) Fund-raising efforts continue for the larger cathedral, a project that Ritchie and the congregation would like to see completed. Plunkett views Johnson as the only architect truly suited to the project, due both to his professional attainments and to his personal life as a gay man. "He wasn't a person of faith, but he was a person of great vision," says Plunkett. "In order to accomplish our goal and build something that would be a symbol, it took a visionary person."