University of North Florida Interfaith Chapel: Jacksonville, Florida


In December 2012 Sweet Sparkman Architects participated in the competition for the design of the University of North Florida's new Interfaith Chapel. The Interfaith Chapel design is intimately connected to its surroundings, rising from the bank of the lake, and mimicking the random and vertical pattern of the surrounding trees. The design is meant to take one on a journey of connectivity: to community, to nature, and to the universe.

Meant to make the lightest possible impact on the site, the Chapel is teetering on the interstitial space between the land and the water. Sensitive to its location, the angular characteristic of the building imitates the contour of the water’s edge. A long boardwalk cuts into the earth, providing a connection from the initial approach to the building and the water. The boardwalk explores the site’s topography, which drops approximately nine feet from the top of the bank to the water’s edge. This physical path illustrates a meditative journey: from the artificial and man-made world of our daily lives, through the beauty of nature, and to the elevation of the mind to spirituality.

As one approaches the building, a massive cast-in-place concrete wall serves as a threshold; this is a critical point in one’s journey to spirituality. The threshold to the building compresses the space and physically surrounds one with the earth element, while visually focusing the view to the water. By traversing into the earth we explore the tension between the ground, the water and the sky. The passage into the Chapel releases one from the previous tension and moves the individual towards the light and the water, functioning as a transitional space between light and dark. This visceral connection to the surrounding landscape allows nature to inform the character of the building. From the inside and outside, the building blends into the natural elements and erases all limits of the physical world. 

By designing with the spiritual journey in mind, the reverence given to the sacred spaces will benefit the events contained within the Chapel. The space is designed to be non-directional and to allow flexibility for different functions. Worship, weddings, receptions, and chamber music recitals will have the visual backdrop of the lake and surrounding woods. By erasing the boundaries of the physical world, each new activity will have the added serenity that nature brings.