METANOIA STUDY CENTER
Student Name: Samuel Soine
School: California Baptist University
Studio: ARC 412: Design Studio VI
Instructor: Matthew Niermann
Through the implementation of religious conceptualization, the Metanoia Study Center celebrates the story of redemption and renewal through architectural form. Simultaneously, the designed spaces lay the foundation for communal interaction and personal spiritual development. There is a distinct pedagogy via architectural language as form speaks of spiritual truth and space speaks of humanities need for it. Throughout the center there is a gradual architectural gradient between chaos and order, orthogonal and organic, highlighting the contrast between the man-made and God-made. The Metanoia Study Center tells the story of redemption through experiential design, offers students a place of study and community with others, and stands as a beacon for its’ surrounding communities.
Over the course of 400 – 500 years, Western civilization has moved from a culture where it was virtually impossible to not believe in God, to a culture where many find the idea of believing in God difficult and an idea nearly impossible to fully embrace.
As Charles Taylor describes in A Secular Age, our secular age is not simply defined by the decline of religious participation. Rather, this secular age is defined by a change in social imaginaries and plausibility structures. Whereas sixteenth century imaginaries understood the world as both immanent and transcendent with a porous boundary between, the contemporary world operates from a completely closed immanent frame. This imminent frame is an entirely different window through which all see the world and has changed the very foundation of what is believable in our unconscious imaginaries for both believers and non-believers alike. While this shift can be seen throughout Western culture, one institution in particular leads the way in redefining the immanent as the sole plausibility structure: the University.
Yet, Taylor also observes that although the result of living in an immanent frame has changed the nature of belief, the result has not been pure secularism. The fundamental result is that normal people are now simultaneously pressured by belief and unbelief. Those who are disconnected from religious faith are ‘haunted’ by the transcendent, fearing something may have been lost. And those who seek Christian faith don’t believe instead of doubting, but often believe while doubting.
Working at this contested middle ground, one institution – The Christian Study Center – seeks to maintain a place at the edge of the University where honest conversations about the immanent and transcendent can happen. Study Centers seek to retrieve Christian faith from the margins of academia and academic life by raising tough questions and holding forth countercultural challenges to the prevailing zeitgeist. These questions and challenges bear witness to a robust Christian vision of human need and human flourishing. Through a diverse range of activities, from small group discussions to larger seminars, campus-wide lectures, conferences and symposia, from efforts to connect with students to those that serve faculty and administrators, from personal mentoring to retreats, Study Centers have as a common aim the integration of Christian faith and learning with life. In all of their work, they take seriously the nurturing of Christian faith in the context of the contemporary university and the current academic scene.
The Metanoia Study Center is located below the University of Michigan’s campus, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in a section of neighborhood lacking Nature and lacking opportunities for students to engage with each other communally. It was through this observation that the center was conceived and formulated accordingly. The intriguing form and architectural differentiation from its’ context, encourages passersby to come in and to see. The program of the center offers a public reading room, public library, café, and chapel space(s) where community flourishes and human interaction is inevitable. The central courtyard further integrates Nature, an Eden like environment, adding to the neighborhoods depleted greenery.
The Metanoia Study Center is the synthesis of thought between good and evil. Through intentional design and a spiritual foundation, the architecture tells the story of redemption and renewal via architectural language. Simultaneously the designed spaces lay the foundation for communal interaction and personal spiritual development.
As one witnesses, or approaches the building, the exterior facade speaks of the brokenness of humanity through its’ dynamic or architecturally chaotic disposition. Through cracks in the facade and an incorporation of minimal nature on the exterior, there is a dim sense of purity foreshadowed even before one enters, promising something greater than what is initially seen. This alone entices those to come in and interact with the architecture.
As one enters and begins the journey between space and form, there is a gradual change and an obvious architectural contrast both visually and experientially between the facade of the building and interior of the chapel. In some sense, there is an architectural gradient between the orthogonal and the organic, highlighting the juxtaposition between the man-made and the God-made. Holistically, the architecture speaks of Christian topics surrounding the theology of redemption and renewal of sins and celebrates the worship of Jesus and communion with Him.
Functionally, the building provides public lecture spaces directly visible to those passing by, further encouraging anyone to come in, to listen, and to ponder. Beyond the lobby space, floor levels split, the ground level branching off and becoming the public reading room, and the second floor becoming the library and cafe spaces.
Through all these spaces there is a great deal of attention to natural daylighting, in order to create both a healthy space to work in for students and to enhance the heavenly ambience of the architecture. From the front spaces of the building to the chapel there is also a change of light direction, going from primarily vertical to only horizontal, in the chapel, highlighting the change of perspective through personal spiritual development.
The chapel space is the culmination of this broader architectural gradient, experienced through space and time. Through organic form and the implementation of natural materials, the space echoes the grandeur of God’s design and His interpersonal relationship with humankind. As daylight floods the space below, users are encouraged to pause, to look up, and to reflect God’s character and man’s response.
The chapel consists of a central multi-usable space on the ground floor, with stepped balconies forming the outer edge. These balconies offer users intimate spaces to pray, to worship, and to gather. The singular skylight further encourages a vertical view as opposed to horizontal, as all other worldly distractions fade away in the presence of God.