by Mirza A. A. Khoyee
The Bishop Edward King Chapel was designed by the firm Niall McLaughlin Architects as a community gathering and congregational center and church for the community at the Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire, 10 miles away from central Oxford. The college is a training and research facility for the Church of England and believes in together and the sense of a community and contains residential and non-residential arrangements for its students and staff.
The architects were required to adhere to the needs of the different communities on the campus which included students and nuns. The site of this chapel is on a hill behind the college campus buildings and contains on and around it natural elements such as trees that have been protected by legislating and preservation bodies. Furthermore, the campus building itself has a significant heritage importance as it was designed by George Edmund Street who extensively practiced the Victorian Gothic Revival style in the nineteenth century (mid 1800s). Therefore it was important for the architects to consider these factors and respect their presence on site. The idea here was for the building to compliment the characteristics of its surroundings humbly, but at the same time have its own character in terms of a contemporary structure.
The architects aimed for the ability of the design to be able to enhance the spirituality and religiosity of its users. They drew inspiration from the roman word ‘nave’ which refers to the central space in the church and further correlated the word to 'navis’ meaning ship, and the still center of a rotating wheel. The design represents two spaces, one being a central still place on the ground for the gathering of people for congregation, and an overhead timber structure representing a ship floating or flying in air for the gathering of sound from below and light entering from the surrounding clerestory windows, reaching heights of spirituality and divinity.
The simplicity in the form of the outer shell of the design to harmonize with its natural surroundings, yet expression of complexity in the surface textures complementing the complexity of design of the campus building of Victorian Gothic Revival style wasn’t expressed any better than the usage of natural stones in terms of their subtle earthy colour choices and their dramatic placements to create textures along the silhouette of the building.
The internal design of the chapel resonates with the history of its site and surrounding buildings in terms of architecture. Timber arch frames that rise from around and above the central 'nave’ of the chapel, represent a contemporary interpretation of giant internal decorative arches of the churches of the Gothic Revival style.
The design is very appropriate to the users as it aids at enhancing the experience of holiness, connectivity and peace.
The design holds true to the idea of being a ship in a bottle’ or a hidden 'nave’. From the outside the design is fairly simple in terms of form and colour. It stays humble to its surroundings in terms of its materials and harmony with the surrounding architecture. On the inside however, the design expresses divinity and religiosity, and one can experience the grand effect of emotions such as humility, unity, peace and calm in the central gathering place especially when they look up at the timber arches and feel the visual elongation towards the sky these frames tend to address. Here too these ideas are conveyed in a subtle manner through the usage of materials with similar light earthy tones, to only form the backdrop of the space and provide room for the people and their congregations to fill in the internal void and give the building a personified character. The design thus addresses the purpose of the building that can be considered as a profound hidden element, in the context of its surroundings, that comes to life when it houses life within it.