Mark Cavagnero Associates
Case Study: Saint Mary’s Student Chapel
Located in Albany, California, Saint Mary’s College High School is a college preparatory school with values rooted in Catholic educational traditions. For over 35 years, the institution utilized classrooms, auditoriums, and other campus spaces to hold liturgies and prayer services for the school community. Acknowledging the need for a dedicated space to serve its roughly 700 students as a place of prayer and meditation, the school envisioned a chapel that could fulfill their needs.
Creating Tranquility Through Design Elements
Saint Mary’s school enlisted Mark Cavagnero of Mark Cavagnero Associates to fulfill their vision of a 4,400 square foot building that could hold up to 200 students. The design took a modern minimalist approach with a strategic blend of the location’s proximity to a running creek and luscious tree canopies. At first sight, the chapel situated on a sloped site facing a busy main street gives off a Brutalist Architecture appeal with what appears to be a windowless white cement façade. However, the rear façade of the chapel invites both students and natural surroundings with transparent glass walls and a meditative courtyard.
Contrasting Elements Blend with Natural Surroundings
The contrasting elements of cement and glass work together to seamlessly transition the outdoors in and filter maximum natural light into the sanctuary. The interior white concrete walls mimicking the exterior of the chapel are meant to bounce off the light and reflect it into the interior space. “The light in the chapel, diffused and entering from all sides, is at once comforting and solemn,” says architect Mark Cavagnero.
“Windows and opening walls of glass to the south and west visually connect the chapel to the existing mature trees and adjoining meditative garden to give the relatively compact building a greater sense of connection with its surroundings.”
Reflective Walls of Glass Enhance Indoor Environment
Adjacent to the wooden doorway lies a serene reflecting pond that enhances the environment’s tranquility and its connection to nature. The outdoor courtyard can be seen reflected in the water as well as the green canopies of the surrounding trees. The minimal addition also offers a symbolic transition between the chapel and the concrete courtyard with the help of operable glass walls taking over a significantly large opening within the glass.
An Opening Glass Wall Offers Solution Against the Elements
As an easily operable solution that seamlessly blends in the outdoors with the chapel’s interior, the folding glass wall was and ideal addition in Cavagnero’s design. Taking over an expanse of roughly 20 feet and standing at 9 feet tall, a NanaWall SL70 folding glass wall acts as a flexible opening that increases sense of space and invites the surrounding elements into the sanctuary. Six panels fold and stack out of the way when fully opened gliding on a floor supported stainless steel track and paired with a thermally broken higher weather performance sill due to its proximity to the water-dynamic pond. The NanaWall thermally broken high weather performance sill prevents water penetration and ensures utmost protection from rain and wind driven by inclement weather. The NanaWall SL70 offers easy operation for both congregates and staff alike as it glides on stainless steel rollers.
A Welcoming Space for the Student Community
Saint Mary’s new student chapel achieved immaculate design through a perfect blend of material that take full advantage of nature-rich surroundings. Resulting as a sacred space dedicated to worship and meditation, the integration of the present natural surroundings was paramount. Glass walls elevate the serene interior ambiance while the integrated folding glass wall acts as a long-lasting solution that opens up the space to fresh air circulation, promoting health and wellness for its daily visitors.