Ogawa/Depardon updates an historic Brooklyn church with a modern look and a heavenly lighting installation.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 8/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
When designing houses of worship, architects often make creative use of natural and artificial light as a means of embodying the divine. In a recent project for Our Lady of Lebanon church in Brooklyn, principals Kathy Ogawa and Gilles Depardon of Ogawa/Depardon adhere to this time-honored tradition even as they assay an unconventional interior treatment. Through Mark Hage, a member of the church who also happens to be the firm's structural engineer, Ogawa/Depardon was hired to create administrative offices for the chancery and remodel a banquet hall at the rear of the Romanesque-revival church, built by Richard Upjohn in 1844. The centerpiece of the project was to be a lounge and event area within the core of the space, a dilapidated two-story volume that had been abandoned for 50 years.
Working with project managers David Akinaka and Craig Bassam, the principals restored the historic elements, cleaning the exposed brick-and-stone walls and touching up a painted frieze encircling the space. The team then devised a modern intervention to break down the volume into usable workspaces for the bishop and his administrative staff. "They initially wanted something more traditional, but the bishop really supported our vision," says Akinaka. When the firm proposed a forward-thinking design, "he was willing to listen to our ideas and take a risk." Clear- and frosted-glass panels inset into a steel framework divide office and conference rooms from the common area. A dramatic, suspended steel staircase with wood treads and glass rails connects the lower floor to the mezzanine level. The lighting installation, conceived with designer Stuart Basseches of Biproduct, was integral to the overall scheme. "We wanted it to be kinetic—like the Hagia Sophia—to play off the geometry of the space, which is regulated by the two glass walls," says Basseches. "The disorder we brought in was pretty key." Fixtures and stairs are suspended from a track of parallel steel beams spanning the volume. Natural light from the clerestory windows illuminates a succession of five horizontal members, comprised of frosted acrylic plates bracketing a metal tube. Fourteen cylinder lights with a six-in. diameter, metal-mesh shade cascade delicately between; the heights of the individual fixtures were roughly sketched out ahead of time and adjusted after installation. "The lights, reminiscent of a mosque design, are hung at a low height to bring down the scale of the room, creating a connection between user and greatness of the space," concludes Basseches. When the installation was complete, the designers made a serendipitous discovery: when lit, the clear bulbs cast the outline of a cross onto the mesh shades. Even without such overt symbolism, the ethereal design imparts an aura of sanctity.