‘What a great moment this is’

Posted on 15 Apr 2010 at 5:26pm
By DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Cathedral of Hope celebrates final beams of Interfaith Peace Chapel


MAKING A MARK ON HISTORY | Frank Welch, right, renowned architect and author of "Philip Johnson in Texas," signs his name to one of the beams that will support the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope. The chapel was the last major project designed by architect Philip Johnson before his death. The final beams for the project were hoisted into place Wednesday night, April 14. (Barbara Nunn)

The final beams for the $3.7 million Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope were hoisted into place on Wednesday, April 14.

The chapel is part of a larger design by architect Philip Johnson that was his major project before his death at age 98 in 2005.

Before the final two girders were lifted into place and secured to the structure in front of a crowd of more than 100, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist prayers of peace were said by representatives of each faith.

The Rev. Jo Hudson, the Cathedral’s rector and senior pastor, led a Christian prayer.

"What a great moment this is," Hudson said. She said that people who attended the ceremony would always remember this as one of the important milestones in the history of the church.

Hudson introduced several of the people involved in construction of the chapel. Among them was Gary Cunningham, the local, on-site project architect who took the concept and translated it into a physical building.

The project manager spoke and thanked people involved with the construction including the person "in charge of tearing up the parking lots."

Because the church is in the glide path to Love Field, special clearance for the crane had to be obtained by the church before construction began, and the FAA had to be notified each morning before work began.

The crane is tall enough that it reportedly showed up on Love Field radar.

Groundbreaking for the building was held for November 2007, and construction was expected to take nine months. Because of the economy, actual work was postponed until January 2009.

Construction is expected to continue through September and the chapel should open in November.


CELEBRATION | The crowd that gathered to watch the topping off of the beams for the Peace Chapel enjoy a meal during the celebration on Wednesday, April 14. (Barbara Nunn)

The building covers more than 8,000 square feet and at its highest point stands 46 feet tall, higher than a four-story building.

Cunningham added a basement that was not in the original Johnson design.

Beau Heyen, the church’s youth minister, said he was excited that it would give him additional classroom space. He said the basement also would provide storage space for groups that use the building.

The 175-seat chapel is intended for weddings, memorial and interfaith services, and other religious and meeting functions.

Cunningham said the building could not have been built as efficiently three years ago. A new computer program allowed him to create exact specifications for each steel beam, which were sent to a steel foundry in Fort Worth.

"They bend steel from our computer disk," he said. "Every stud is different."

The pieces arrived numbered so that they knew exactly where each girder went.

He said the building is lighter and stronger than it would have been had it been constructed without this technology.

"It’s a green building and sustainable," Cunningham said.

That raised the price of construction some, he said, but it will be much cheaper to maintain in the long run. He called it the most automated building ever built.

Cunningham said that the computer did not completely replace the human eye: "One window, it didn’t see a funny blip."

That took people to make the correction.

An adjoining building would seat 2,200 people and cost an estimated $40 million.

On April 11, the Cathedral had the final beams displayed outside during Sunday worship services. Members were invited to sign them before Wednesday’s topping off ceremony.

Johnson is probably best known for designing the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center. However, he has made a mark on North Texas architecture as well.

His contributions to Fort Worth include the Water Gardens and the original Amon Carter Museum built in 1961 as well as the 2001 addition. In downtown Dallas he created the Kennedy Memorial, Thanks-Giving Square and the Comerica Tower. And while he has more skyscrapers in New York City, his Pennzoil Place in Houston is considered a landmark in high-rise construction.

Cunningham called the Interfaith Peace Chapel one of Johnson’s most important designs.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 16, 2010.

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