Spillis Candela DMJM, Architect; Coral Gables, FL
Fratelli Ruffatti, Organ Builder; Padua, Italy
This parish church in a quiet residential neighborhood of Miami is more spectacular than many cathedrals. Architecturally, it is a dramatic blend of the traditional and the modern – a 1,200 seat cruciform with the chancel at the crossing, a raised choir loft at the back of the nave, fixed wooden pews and stone floors. Acoustically, it delivers an impressively live, supportive environment that deliberately stops short of cathedral-length reverberation.
The cross section of the acoustic envelope is a tall, narrow rectangle with a shallow pitched roof and low side aisles. Within this Italianate profile there is a finished ceiling of horizontal wooden slats in the form of a Gothic arch. This sound-transparent “veil” extends from the top of the side aisles up to the peak of the roof. Through the veil, worshipers can glimpse the sky-blue metal roof deck and large clerestory windows, some in colored glass and some in strips of laminated glass alternating with precast concrete sunshades.
Because of the extent of glass in the building, opaque surfaces are made of heavy materials to support low frequency reverberation. The end walls of the nave, apse and transepts are precast concrete. Concrete on the roof deck ensures that heavy rainstorms do not interrupt Mass. The precast panels at the lower side walls are slightly angled in section to direct the congregation’s sound downward, encouraging congregational singing while avoiding flutter. Wooden pews are left unupholstered to further support singing.
At the corners of the crossing four towers contain reconciliation chapels and the building’s mechanical rooms. The sacristy is a one-story structure that nearly fills the apse. A partial-height wall behind the chancel platform creates a devotional chapel in front of the sacristy and provides a supportive surface for sources near the altar. One-story structures at the back of each transept serve as vestibules and cry rooms and also incorporate restrooms. A one-story structure at the back of the nave includes the organ blower room and access to the choir loft that cantilevers over the back of the congregation. An impressive Ruffatti pipe organ fills the back of the choir loft and is ideally located to energize the nave.
A modest amount of glass fiber paneling was added to the room to avoid excessive reverberation in a lightly occupied condition. Panels are located on the underside of the pews and in a narrow band on the high ceilings over each of the four one-story structures. Panels were also integrated into the faces of the one-story structures behind the congregation, where they also provide echo control from audio system sources.
The room includes separate voice reinforcement and music reinforcement systems. Voice reinforcement uses two pairs of steerable array loudspeakers mounted to the base of the steel arch that supports the veil at the back edge of the chancel. Each pair of loudspeakers includes one to serve the nave and one to serve the adjacent transept. Because of their location near the pulpit and presider’s chair, the loudspeakers provide approximate directional realism. Music reinforcement relies on a series of small cabinets mounted below the clerestories, aimed down at the pews. The loudspeakers are delayed and zoned to accommodate sources from the choir loft or the chancel.
The room, overall, has been a spectacular success for all aspects of worship.