A Sanctuary Within
Elissa Emoto, staff writer | communication studies major
Art students look beyond the classroom to understand how places of worship are not confined to the walls of a building.
The Cougars and Eagles are uniting for a collaborative, though hardly competitive, occasion. This unique affair involves a high-profile philanthropist, 20 Biola and Azusa Pacific university students, a group of accomplished architects and a plan to design a sacred space in the form of a chapel. For APU students, the project is a rare opportunity to create a lasting space that will impact their lives and the lives of others.
The catalyst for the project is Roberta Green Ahmanson, who made the list of TIME magazine’s 25 most influential evangelicals along with her husband Howard.
Ahmanson is also Biola’s 2011-2012 “Visionary-in-Residence” for their “Year of the Arts.” Her vision is to fund the construction of a chapel, a space of solitude, for the Double R Ranch. The ranch is part of the Orange County Rescue Mission, a Christ-centered nonprofit ministry in Warmer Springs, Calif. that motivates individuals to reclaim their lives from things such as drug abuse or criminal activity. She also planned for student innovators to be the lead design team and approached APU art department’s Chair and Professor, William Catling, about the endeavor.
“I’ve gotten to know Roberta Ahmanson as a friend,” said Catling, who met her four years ago at a conference in New York. “I happened to be at a dinner last September when she turned to me and said, ‘Bill I have a plan for your life.’ So that’s how [the project] got started.”
Catling began working in conjunction with an adjunct professor of art at Biola, Nathan Huff, to develop their course curriculum around Ahmanson’s vision. The course at APU is titled “Special Topics” ART 495 and students were able to enroll in the class just like any other.
Soon after Huff and Catling’s students met they were placed in five teams of four. Throughout the semester, they are expected to work as one mind in order to produce a single design pitch for the chapel. Professional architects will build the chapel in an attempt to fuse the ideas from each team. The students’ efforts will culminate on April 22 when they present their visions to the three project facilitators: Roberta Ahamnson; Paul Bertelli, a design principal of JLF & Associates; and Danish artist Peter Brandes.
The professors are prepping their students by challenging them to be open to the ideas of others. At their first meeting, the student collaborators participated in an exercise where they drew a sketch of an object that was set in the middle of the group. Whenever the professors would switch the object for a new one, the students also had to move drawing stations to continue drawing on another person’s paper. By the end of the exercise, the original artist’s paper had been drawn on by 20 different people.
“Life works better collaboratively in general,” said Catling, to explain the partnership of the two universities. “We talk about community a lot, but it becomes a word that we use to describe when we gather rather than what we actually do.”
In preparation for the planning of the chapel and in hope of building a sacred space to promote spiritual growth and health, Catling also encourages students to be aware of the small moments that happen within and around us that are often forgotten.
“Every morning I pause before my first cup of coffee and hold that moment. It is really wonderful,” said Catling. “[Sacred space] can be anything you want, but use your imagination to create this interior space so that you can have peace at anytime of the day, carry it with you, and know the sacred space that makes you feel most relaxed.”
Throughout the process student designers are discovering their own meanings of sacred space, which is typically a place for reflection, prayer, and worship .
“Space can help you focus and help you quiet your mind to connect with God,” said senior fine arts major Ben Sisson. “But I think that a space in itself isn’t necessarily sacred. It’s you as a person and it’s the space that’s in you that is sacred.”
Miyuki Yoshimura, a junior photography major who is also a part of the project, has found an unconventional spot for her personal sanctuary.
“Mine is on the left side of my couch,” said Yoshimura, of finding the best place in her University Village apartment to meditate daily.
Yoshimura’s idea for planning a space of refuge is to create a place of security.
“The point is to create a place of safety so that [people] feel like they can be vulnerable with God,” said Yoshimura “It is difficult to find that place.”
This thoughtful design experience is often referred to as a charrette, which is a period of intense planning to draft a solution to a problem. In this situation, students will receive immense learning opportunities that they would not otherwise get in a classroom. Their course sessions are saved for select weekends in which they attend conferences to hear from professionals in the art world, take part in collaborative workshops to build design skills and spend two days camping at the Double R Ranch to familiarize themselves with the site. Throughout their stay at Double R, each team was guided by one of the men who lives on the ranch, which gave the students the opportunity to learn what the men need for sacred space.
Essentially, this rich learning experience will produce a chapel that is completely student envisioned and will be a place where they will be able to visit years after.
“They really wanted us to have the chance to have our own ideas of sacred space and create it in our own heads,” said Bailey. “To work in a group and then present something to the architects. Instead of them saying, ‘Let’s do this and work around what we want.”
The finished product will most likely resemble a fusion of each of the five groups’ perspectives, representing the good efforts of teamwork.
“It may have elements of different parts of the chapel we design, or it might even be that we go with just one design,” said sophomore graphics design major Ethan Bailey.
Construction for the chapel at Double R Ranch will begin this summer, where the architects will take the students’ sketches and bring them to life. The students will not have a part in the actual building process, but have the educational experience as their reward.
“My goal is that they create a sacred interior space in each one of them so they realize building sacred space is a necessary part of our soul work,” said Catling. “The outside building or designing is a byproduct of what happens inside them. My whole goal is to create educational experiences that actually stick.”
As a result of the collaboration between two universities the chapel will represent the students’ journey through sacred space–a place to meditate and seek God–and will stand as a reminder to rest while life moves on around us.