lasting impact of Cannon Chapel
an Emory undergraduate, Joe King 88C studied
the life and work of architect Paul Rudolph in Judith
Rohrers History of Modern Architecture course. One
of the most prominent postwar Modernist architects, Rudolph
designed creative and unpredictable buildings that appealed
strongly to the senses.
students enjoyed a benefit most of their counterparts
at other universities did not: they could leave the classroom,
walk a short distance, and experience one of Rudolphs
last works, the William R. Cannon Chapel, completed in
admits that he was slow to appreciate this opportunity,
even though the visually striking structure straddled
a passage frequently used by students as a shortcut between
classes. He says he passed through the open plaza beneath
the chapel many times before he was struck by the buildings
while serving Emorys spiritual community as a student
deacon, King ultimately had the time and opportunity to
absorb the nuances of the chapels design. While
observing the naturally illuminated surfaces and listening
for the distinct quality of sound that rose from the pulpit,
he came to the epiphany: Buildings dont just
happen. Such a brilliant envisioning of space, he
realized, could only be executed by an individual with
an exceptional understanding of materials and design.
building makes that so clear, he says.
veneration for Rudolphs architectural vision may
have begun with Cannon Chapel, but it did not end there.
After graduating with a bachelors degree in history
from Emory, King attended the School of Architecture at
Georgia Tech, where he met fellow student Christopher
Domin, another admirer of Rudolph. King and Domin went
on to start separate architectural practices but remained
close friends. Together, they published a book, Paul
Rudolph: The Florida Houses (Princeton Architectural
Press, 2002), and brought a companion exhibition to museums
across the country, including most recently to the Museum
of Design Atlanta.
Sanders Chandler 57C, director of exhibitions
at the Museum of Design, explains that the Atlanta incarnation
of Kings Rudolph exhibition contains a component
not included elsewherean exploration of Cannon Chapel.
King really wanted to do something special for Emory,
says Chandler. Thats when we decided we would
love to do something on Cannon Chapel. . . . This is the
first time it will be shown. We will own that exhibit
and want to share it with Emory.
Chapel originally was conceived in 1975, when the Candler
School of Theology purchased 220,000 books from the Hartford
Seminary in Connecticut. The school desperately needed
a place to shelve this massive new collection, but it
was decided that fundraising for a new chapel would be
more lucrative than for something boring like a
library, King explains.
a new chapel also allowed the theology school to reevaluate
its needs for more space and better facilities to accommodate
its ministerial training.
Rudolph, who had served as chair of the School of Architecture
at Yale from 1957 to 1965 and was nearing the end of his
career, was contracted to renovate the old Durham Chapel
into a library and to design the new Cannon Chapel. Rudolphs
father, Keener, was a member of Candlers first graduating
class in 1915.
Chapel is a building that inspires and encourages an exploration
of spiritual space. In the years since its completion,
the chapel has served Emory as a space for worship, weddings,
and funerals, as well as performances and plays.
who has been teaching art history at Emory since 1988,
admits that at first she thought the chapel seemed
a little industrial. Rudolphs work has often
been subject to attack for being impractical and puzzling.
But her skepticism of the building, Rohrer explains, has
evolved into appreciation over time. The process was a
slow revelation, much as it was for King. After attending
different events at the chapel she has come to particularly
admire the chapels versatility and use of space.
She appreciates how the sanctuary, which accommodates
large gatherings, can also be easily divided for a
more intimate space.
says that every year she makes the students in her 100-level
Understanding Architecture course pick one building on
campus that they love and one that they do not. The
chapel always shows up on both sides, she says.
Either way, the building makes them think about
what it is that they like or dont like.
the opening of their exhibit, King and Domin visited the
Emory campus, and King returned to Rohrers classroomthis
time as a lecturer on the work of the renowned architect.
After class, King, Domin, and Rohrer gathered inside the
chapels sanctuary. King strayed from the group and
pointed to a corner of an upper-level wall.
see that light wrapping around the corner, he says.
Near the ceiling a wall glows, lit by a window hidden
around the corner. Shaking his head, King contemplates
the effect of light that Rudolph seems to have pulled
around a corner.
is always something, King says, to animate
the space in his building.
beams through the windows in the ceiling, directly down
to the pulpit. Vaults of varying sizes combine to form
the chapel. King looks up, takes in the full 360-degree
view of the series of rising cambers that make up the
ceiling. A pinwheel of space that rises up towards
the sky. He reiterates, This doesnt
and Domin have revealed how Cannon Chapel functions as
a teaching chapel, inspires an appreciation of architectural
mastery, and encourages the discovery of spiritual space.
Despite the original opposition to the chapels construction,
Cannon Chapel is a space that seems to pull peoples
admiration in slowly, much the way Rudolphs surreptitious
light slips around the corner, from that window, just
out of sight.A.T.Y.