Finegold Alexander Receives Faith & Form Honor Award for Design, Harvard University The Memorial Church

Finegold Alexander - Mem Church Award
 January 7, 2015 – Published in Faith & Form: The Interfaith Journal on Religion, Art and Architecture. Vol. XLVIII | No. 4, Winter 2015 | ISSN 00147001
Finegold Alexander received a Honor Award for Design from Faith & Form in the Religious Architecture Category for Harvard University’s, The Memorial Church

The Design for the restoration brings the original intent for Harvard University’s Memorial Church to fruition revealing a beautiful Palladian window that illuminates the east chapel and main sanctuary. This key detail in the renovation alters the experience of the church and makes the sanctuary space a dramatic primary focal point.

Built in 1932 in the Georgian Revival style, the Memorial Church features a single barrel vaulted volume with the main sanctuary and the east chapel divided by a beautiful, highly ornate wood screen. The main sanctuary is a proscenium arrangement of seating with a gallery, while the chapel located behind the gallery has antiphonal seating dominated by the large Palladian window to the east. In 1967, a new organ was installed. Originally, it was meant to be located in the gallery, but a late change placed it at the east end of the chapel, blocking the Palladian window, relocating the pulpit to the west end, and requiring removal of some pews. This arrangement created an imbalance of sound—the instrument was too big for the chapel and inadequate for the church.

The architects conducted careful research of historic photos and surveys of existing conditions to maintain the integrity of this special place of worship. The solutions began with solving the music problem through the use of two organs: a new tracker organ in the gallery for the church and a smaller electronic organ restored and placed among the chapel pews, with remote pipes. These changes provided an opportunity to complete a faithful restoration of the chapel to its original 1932 design. The east window was uncovered, flooding the chapel and main sanctuary with morning light supporting the spirit of the daily morning service. In addition, new pews match the originals that had been removed, the pulpit was restored to its original spot, accessible seating was integrated, original lighting restored, and a new chancel gate designed and fabricated. In the gallery, pew seating for the choir was reconfigured to allow sight lines to the choir director without altering the perspective view from the main pulpit below.

An exhibition featuring this project and other award-winning projects will be displayed at the 2016 National Convention of the American Institute of Architects in Philadelphia May 19-21, 2016. The Award Presentation will be made at that time.

Jury Comments

This restoration brings the chapel back to where it should be. The large organ installed nearly 50 years ago had been a mistake, and this restoration of the church realizes the vision of the original designers. The beautiful Palladian window is once again the focus of the chapel, revealing God’s immanence in this space.

All Award Winners can be viewed here.