The Chapel of St Albert the Great

The Chapel of St Albert the Great

The University Chaplaincy at the University of Edinburgh is in an elegant townhouse in George Square, the oldest Georgian square
in Edinburgh. The building form and materials, the use of a sedum roof covering and in particular the use of timber, contribute to a calm, peaceful space in a tranquil garden.

The University Chaplaincy at the University of Edinburgh is in an elegant townhouse in George Square, the oldest Georgian square in Edinburgh. Until recently its chapel was housed in what had formerly been the main drawing room on the first floor of the house. The chapel’s altar was in front of a large bay window which flooded the chapel with natural light and overlooked a back garden; to many worshippers, the view of large mature trees and their seasonal changes was the ideal background to contemplation. But the upstairs chapel space had problems; over the years the congregation had grown and it had become too small; there was no disabled access and ventilation was poor. The Order of Preachers, the Dominican community who provide chaplaincy services, commissioned architect Simpson & Brown to design a new chapel in the only available site, the beautiful and mature garden at the rear of the house. The new chapel is in a corner of the garden, built on to the rear of the main house and against the next door boundary wall on the north. A new entrance created in the stone boundary wall on the south side of the garden gives direct access from Middle Meadow Walk, a popular footpath. From here the chapel can be seen among the trees of the back garden; the first view is of the new wall of Hazeldean sandstone wall, surmounted by a glass clerestory. Above it, the chapel’s dramatic oak roof soars in a gentle curve over the chapel and extends over the sanctuary and altar. The curved roof is supported by four tree-like Cor-Ten steel columns. Worshippers face the sanctuary and altar and can look beyond, through a glass wall, at the background of mature trees and garden. The glass wall merges the inside and outside space into one. The new chapel improves accessibility and increases capacity – it can now comfortably seat 126 people. The building form and materials, the use of a sedum roof covering and in particular the use of timber, contribute to a calm, peaceful space in a tranquil garden setting which was important to the client as the chapel’s patron saint, St Albert the Great, was 13th Century Dominican bishop who was an eminent natural scientist.

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