The Chapel of Saint Albert the Great

The Chapel of Saint Albert the Great

Simpson and Brown Architects
23-24 George Square, United Kingdom
Project Year
© Chris Humphreys

The Chapel of Saint Albert the Great

Simpson and Brown Architects as Architects

The new Chapel of Saint Albert the Great, in George Square, Edinburgh, built for the University Chaplaincy and friary for The Order of Preachers, the Dominican Order, was completed in late 2012. This new chapel is situated in the garden of one of the townhouses and replaces the old chapel which was located on the upper floor of the adjoining townhouses. The new garden chapel not only provides a space for peace and worship, but also increases capacity and improves accessibility. A new access was created from Middle Meadow Walk, and, along with the siting, form and appearance of the building, the chapel is announced to the many that use this popular route. The choice of materials and building form were important factors in the design of the building, chosen to achieve the peaceful space required of a chapel, and to connect it to its natural setting of the garden and Meadows beyond. Four tree-like Corten Steel columns support a curved, oak-lined timber roof over the altar and sanctuary spaces. A thick masonry wall, constructed out of large clay blocks clad with sandstone, interprets the historic boundary between the townhouses and provides a solid mass and weight to the building form. Angled windows are formed within this wall to allow light in and also to maintain the focus towards the sanctuary, providing only oblique views of the garden. A combination of clerestory glazing, ventilator windows and a lightwell with opening rooflights provides both natural light and ventilation. Daylight is introduced by mirrors and filtered through continuous oak slats along the length of the chapel. The west wall behind the sanctuary is glazed and connects the chapel with the garden and the changing seasons which play an important part in the worship calendar. The external finish on the roof is sedum, again connecting the building to its garden setting and minimising its visual impact from above.

The Chapel has won several awards in 2013 including: a RIBA National Award, RIAS Award - Best Gathering Place; Scottish Design Award - Public Building; Scottish Design Award - Leisure/Culture Building; Edinburgh Architectural Association Awards - Building of the Year; Edinburgh Architectural Association Awards - Wood Award; Timber in Construction Awards – Interior of the Year.

Five key features on the use of wood in the Chapel:

1. The vaulted roof is formed and shaped by two parallel engineered timber (Kerto S) beams which run the full length of the chapel. This method of structure can be considered as the skeleton of the building which provides its unique form. Timber provides a lightweight solution that provides a seamless link to the timber interior finishes.

2. The foyer of the chapel is formed by a series of simple but finely crafted oak frames. The pattern created is consistent with recurring themes within chapel as a series of entrances that lead to the altar. The joints are simple mortise and tenoned joints. The oak is untreated and colours are therefore encouraged to gradually change.

3. Oak veneered plywood internally and externally provides a structural skin that binds the structural timber frame behind. The finish of the boards against solid oak slats creates a homogeneous appearance.

4. The interior furnishings include bespoke handmade benches, chairs and choir stalls with book rests all made from solid oak.

5. Engineered oak floor tongue and groove boards add warmth to the interior and are compatible with the underfloor heating.

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