The 11th Commandment: Sustainability, for a House of God

Students from the Illinois Institute of Technology complete a deceptively simple chapel, using cutting edge sustainable techniques.

Field Chapel in Boedigheim, Germany


You’d never guess by it’s austere, simple looks, but the recently completed Field Chapel in Boedigheim, Germany represents the cutting edge in sustainable design.

The project began when a local reverend contacted Ecker Architekten, looking to build a chapel–with no money, and no materials. Dea Ecker knew she’d need pro-bono resources, so reached out, all the way across the globe, to an old classmate, Frank Flury, a professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. And Flury seized the opportunity: He turned to 12 of his graduate students for help, and together, they created something that’s both locally sourced and globally designed.

The bulk of the wooden structure was made using wood pieces designed on computer, and then sent to local mills, where they were fabricated. Meanwhile, all of the building materials were donated, from sources no more than 25 miles from the site. Most–such as the wood and limestone blocks–come from within walking distance.

Of course, there was a bit of carbon involved, since the students arrived on site to finish and build the chapel–but it’s intended, more than anything, to show exactly how a truly sustainable building design would work.

Design-wise, the building has a fastidious attention to detail–you’ve got to pay attention, to see everything at work. The basic structure was meant to evoke both the Biblical Temple of Solomon and old, local tobacco-drying barns which still dot the local landscape. Meanwhile, the entire structure rests on steel beams, with a thin gap between ground and building that makes the structure look like it’s floating. And the louvers of the chapel tower are increasingly far apart, towards the top–make the entire thing look as if it’s reaching up and fading into the sky.

But the most dramatic effect is something that doesn’t show up in the pictures: Since the louvers of the chapel tower overlap when seen from a diagonal, the entire tower shimmers with a moire effect, as you approach it. (Moire being the same effect that makes overlapping window screens create wavy patterns.)


About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.