Chapel in Cuddesdon - Detail

Issue 12
December 2013

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Nowadays, commissions for ecclesiastical buildings are rare in Britain. Perhaps that is why no fewer than 126 architects applied to take part in the competition for this chapel. It is situated in the park of the Theological College of Cuddesdon near Oxford and, together with the Victorian stone buildings on both sides, forms the new centre. The need for the chapel arose when five nuns were relocated to the village. The winning scheme was implemented with only one significant change: the proposed woven-wood facade was replaced with a stone wall. Models were made to study the effect of light, viewing lines and orientation, and the floor plan was built to a reduced scale on a gypsum ground.

Quality and sustainability were the dominant factors in the construction, not speed and costs. It took a whole week to lay the first course of stones by eye, for example. The outer wall encloses an independent, load-bearing structure consisting of prefabricated laminated-timber columns. These fork at the top and merge seamlessly with the wooden cross-vaulting. The peripheral clerestory windows allow daylight to enter the central space and create a play of shadows on the floor and walls. A small recess was formed – also lighted from above – in which the nuns pray. Informal meetings and events were held to discuss the scheme and to inform villagers, who can now attend services in the chapel.

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