Architecture People & Places


VJAA Addition to Breuer's Abbey

The Petters Pavilion (foreground) is a new entry pavilion, designed by VJAA, that provides an accessible entrance to the St. John's Abbey church in Collegeville, Minnesota . Photo: Paul Crosby

VJAA designed a renovation and addition for Marcel Breuer's Brutalist St. John's Abbey (1961) church in Collegeville, Minnesota. The project adapted an existing office space attached to the main church, converting it to use as a sacramental chapel for devotional prayer and added an accessible entry pavilion along side the chapel.

Inside the sacramental chapel. Photo: Peter Seiger

The project also included renovation of the adjacent Chapter House which is connected to Breuer's church via enclosed ramp. A new glazed ramp extends from the entry pavilion, intersecting with the existing Chapter House ramp and providing a unified entry to the church, chapel, and chapter house.

The new ramp from the pavilion connects to an existing ramp and leads into. Photo: Paul Crosby

The tiny sacramental chapel is richly finished in wood, with a built-in bench seating alcove positioned opposite an ornamental panel that the firm calls "a modern interpretation of the 14th-century reredos wall" which obscures an existing window opening. Platinum leaf is used as the finish material for the ceiling of the chapel.

The renovated Chapter House. Photo: Paul Crosby

Jury Comments
"This project involves modest yet beautifully sensitive modifications to a heroic modernist building. 
"It respects and enhances the spirit and values of the Benedictine monks embodied in the original building while responding to a new set of goals for the religious community and a variety of code and system-related improvements. 
"The new work is deferential but also distinct. In contrast to the raw and monumental forms of the original building, the additions combine minimalist strategies of form with materials that are rich and intimate. 
"The design is completely in service of church rituals, functional requirements, and opportunities for light and view."

Looking back at the pavilion and ramp from near the main church. Photo: Paul Crosby

The main church, with its expressive concrete bell banner, is part of a complex of buildings designed and masterplanned by Breuer on the southeastern border of St. John's University. And VJAA's creation of a new monastery guesthouse nearby received an AIA Housing Award in 2009.

The wood screen inside the sacramental chapel obscures an existing window. Photo: Paul Crosby

"The addition creates a new accessible entry and connection directly from the parking area and from the new guesthouse. The addition's new two-level lobby and elevator provide access to the Lower Church and new support spaces. Priorities for the Chapter House circulation included a convenient and sheltered public entrance for visitor drop-off and deliveries and a new stair that accesses the lower Parish Church. The project also incorporates new restrooms, art gallery space, bride's and groom's rooms, and a staging area for catering. A new tunnel connection from the addition to the 30-room guesthouse provides accessible circulation and a heated, sheltered route in inclement weather." – AIA

The new ramp connected to the pavilion (left) and the main church. Photo: Paul Crosby

The ramps and pavilion form a courtyard. Photo: Paul Crosby

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