When circumstances are beyond our control, many find solace in connecting with the spirit. Through meditation, prayer, or reflection in a quiet place, healing the mind-body-spirit connection can bring peace during times of uncertainty. Earlier this year, Froedtert Hospital answered the call for soul healing and support by opening a renovated spiritual space nestled deep within the clinical maze. A small space squeezed between a noisy corridor and bustling offices, opened its new doors as an oasis of quiet meditation and self-reflection.
The design challenge was to transform the existing chapel within its current footprint. A sweeping curved wall was introduced to dissolve the sense of one’s orientation within the space and a wing wall was strategically placed to create a buffer to the main entry and aid in the transition to solemnity. The team took a strategic approach of incorporating little gems of reverence for diversity and various religious practices into the design matrix.
A very important goal was to maintain the multi-denominational inclusivity of the Chapel. The design team worked closely with the hospital chaplain on determining the content, the flow and the accurate visualization for all religious forms and functions of the space. Seven symbols of faith have been strategically placed to lead the way into the Chapel, unfolding this hidden room in front of visitors’ eyes.
In the heart of the Chapel – the Bible on the lectern and the sanctuary light on the wall; the Quran on its stand; the Prayer Wall with a floating shelf where words of thanks and pleas for healing are written – all received their appropriate space, orientation and iconography.
As the curved wall unravels in front of them, Chapel visitors get subtly cued in by several curated pieces of artwork and antiques from the donor’s personal collection. Four refinished antique kneelers bring the memories of old times and reinforce the importance of staying grounded in faith through prayer. The crystalline and weightless aquarelle painting of a canoe and its shadow pays tribute to the Native American way of life where religion is united with nature and landscape.
Anticipating the cue, Zimmerman designers took a biophilic design approach to bring natural materials and the sensation of natural light into the Chapel. The stained glass windows brightened the space and brought in the motifs of barley spikes as a homage to the heritage and the origin of the Froedtert Hospital trust, the Froedtert Malting Company.
Today, the Chapel is full of warm sun, bright blue skies, and fresh greens. The chosen glass colors blend nicely with light wood panels and soft fabrics, providing a needed atmosphere of calm and peace. A small stone wall, with candle-like integral lights and narrow slots for prayer notes, is now a place where prayers can be whispered or turned in. The ceiling oval provides tiny flickers of light for special occasions, while disguising the sound proofing above its wood grille. This acoustical blanket ensures for the moments of quietness in the worried life of a patient’s family, or in a stressed day of a staff member. Hidden behind the neighboring wall fabric finish is another layer of sound proofing – high efficiency acoustical panels, providing the shield from noisy offices beyond. All lights are LED, dimmable and programmable, enabling different settings for various uses of this space – for everyday public use, for special gatherings and ceremonies, for quiet nightly soul searching. Smaller size stained glass panels are easily removable for LED ribbon lights replacement and maintenance. For larger size windows, back access to lights and wiring was provided with a goal of minimizing the disruption of Chapel services and reducing the risk of damage to large stained glass panels due to their removal.
The furniture has been carefully selected to be soft and comfortable, but at the same time sturdy and supportive. The chairs are light and movable, their rounded forms fitting the curvature of wood walls. Even though the benches appear airy and sculptural, they are bariatric grade and accessible to all.
In such a small space, every square inch was a premium. To provide for badly needed storage the design team made creative use of several residual spaces – a small storage room was carved out of the cavity behind the curved wall; the sacristy base cabinet was equipped with hidden hardware and magnetic locks to discourage potential thefts and make the storage function less obvious. To protect the privacy of prayer notes, a built-in collection box inside the stone clad wall was given a lockable access panel on the back side, accessible only to chapel staff.
The redesign of Kurtis R. Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Chapel came to life thanks to a generous donation to the Froedtert Hospital Foundation. Froedtert’s Facilities Planning and Development team partnered with Zimmerman Architectural Studios to lead the design effort, and with C.G. Schmidt as the general contractor. Stained glass windows were created in collaboration with Oakbrook Esser Studios in Oconomowoc.
Zimmerman Architectural Studios project design team is proud to have supported the creation of this precious retreat. We thank Froedtert Hospital for this opportunity, and we hope that the Chapel serves its noble purpose to the community for many years to come.