Fairfield University community center for Jesuits winner of design awards
(Posted on December 10, 2010)
The Fairfield Jesuit Community Center - a building on the Fairfield University campus whose environmentally friendly design balances the need for reflection among religious men with their gift for engagement and hospitality - has been honored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
University officials and the Jesuit community worked closely with New Haven-based Gray Organschi Architects on the design of the one-year-old building. The awards included a 2010 New England AIA Design Award, and two 2010 Connecticut AIA honors - a "Building Award" and an "Encompassing Art" award for the stunning chapel inside the facility. The 20,000 square foot building was conceived as an apostolic outreach center for Jesuits at the University, Fairfield Prep and elsewhere. The central campus location positions the priests so that they are now closer to the University and Fairfield Prep than their former Barlow Road home.
Rev. Gilbert Sunghera, a Jesuit who is an architectural designer who served as a design consultant on the project. "I have to commend Fairfield University for their willingness to undertake this project," he said. "They were very open to allowing a new architectural vocabulary to emerge for this building, not 'playing it safe' in the traditional sense of what people expect for a house for priests."
The AIA is the professional organization for architects in the United States. The design awards are juried by peers, typically from outside the region; AIA fellows from AIA Chicago judged the New England awards. "Because it is peer-reviewed, it has significance since design professionals are telling others in the profession to study these buildings," said Sunghera, assistant professor of architecture at the University of Detroit Mercy. The New England regional award is quite prestigious, especially since New England is home to some of the nation's top architects, he added.
Jurors from the Connecticut AIA chapter cited the Jesuit Community Center with a special commendation. "The center reflects an intuitive connection between the mission of calm, meditative, and community spirit with a plan that reflects spatial balance between individual and communal life," the AIA jury commented. "The building captures views; the use of natural materials is confident and tranquil."
The Center is situated so that from many of its rooms, people may feel as if they are sitting in a treehouse. Strategically placed windows, including those in the chapel, enhance the correlation between the inside and outside environments.
"This submission truly fulfills the intent of this category, making connection from detail to the whole," AIA jury members agreed of the chapel. "It rescues damaged European beech from the site to fabricate altar furniture in such a way as to preserve the grain of wood and at the same time to celebrate the meditative simplicity of the whole."
The Center was also singled out for a 2010 Builders' Choice Award, a national recognition judged by builders and developers. In addition to Gray Organschi, PAC Group, of Harwinton, Conn., the builder, and Reed Hilderbrand, of Watertown, Mass., the landscape architect, were acknowledged by the publication. Editors said the building is an example of great design execution, but it is also illustrative of environmental stewardship. Featuring a host of creative earth-friendly innovations, the structure has a geo-thermal heating and cooling system and a garden roof full of sedum plants.
Rev. Mark Scalese, S.J., associate professor of visual and performing arts, observed, "We wanted our building to be both a home to us and a public place of welcome, to be beautiful in its own right and to integrate the natural beauty of its location, to be both traditional in its craftsmanship and innovative in its use of sustainable materials and resources. We think our architects and contractors succeeded wonderfully in achieving all of those goals."
Photos by Jean Santopatre.
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Vol. 43, No. 147