The Bishop Edward King Chapel is a new chapel for Ripon Theological College in Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire. The chapel replaces the existing 19th-century one, which had become too small for the current needs of the college and the Sisters of Begbroke, a small community of nuns resident on the site. The brief asked for a building which would accommodate the worshipping needs of these two communities within a collegiate seating arrangement. The chapel sits alongside the existing listed college building.
The brief set out the clients' aspirations for the chapel, foremost as 'a place of personal encounter with the numinous' that would enable the occupants to think creatively about the relationship between space and liturgy. They asked for a building that would be an exemplar of forward looking liturgical design that would link the past with the future. Through a reflective and research-led design process, we asked whether and how the innovative use of materials, building techniques, geometrical form and natural light could lead to an architectural expression of the divine.
Our work for the chapel began with the word 'nave'. The word describes the central space of a church, the place for the congregation, but shares the same origin as 'navis', a ship. It has four common and deeply interlinked meanings. Nave can mean the still centre of a turning wheel, the body of a church, the navel (omphalos), or a ship. The image of the wheel hub speaks of stillness amidst movement. The navel speaks of origins, of things that grow out from the middle. All of these go back to the oldest idea of making, or finding, a hollow place at the centre. From these words, two architectural images developed.
The first is a gentle hollow in the ground as a meeting place for the community. The second is a delicate ship-like timber structure that rises into the treetops to gather the light from the leaves. The first idea speaks of ground, of meeting in the still centre. The second idea suggests an uplifting buoyancy, rising towards the light. We wanted to use the way in which these two opposite forces work off each other to give the building its particular character.
In 2013, the Bishop Edward King Chapel won a RIBA Regional Award (South), RIBA National Award and RIBA South Building of the Year, and was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize.