The practice was commissioned to design a new chapel for Ripon Theological College in Cuddesdon, after winning an RIBA competition in 2009. The clients for the project were the college itself and a small community of nuns resident on the site, the Sisters of Begbroke.
The project encapsulates two architectural images. The first is a gentle hollow in the ground as a meeting place for the community. The second is a delicate ship-like timber structure that rises into the treetops to gather the light from the leaves. The first idea speaks of ground, of meeting in the still centre. The second idea suggests an uplifting buoyancy, rising towards the light. The way in which these two opposite forces work off each other is what gives the building its particular character.
The starting point for the project was the hidden word ‘nave’ at the centre of Seamus Heaney poem Lightenings viii. The word describes the central space of a church but shares the same origin as ‘navis’, a ship, and can also mean the still centre of a turning wheel.
On the site is an enormous beech tree on the brow of the hill. Facing away from the beech and the college buildings behind, there is a ring of mature trees on high ground overlooking the valley that stretches away towards Garsington. This clearing has its own particular character, full of wind and light and the rustling of leaves. Our design sought to capture these qualities within the building.