William Rawn Associates, Architect; Boston, MA
Church of the Transfiguration is a modern expression of early Christian architecture. This form was selected based on extensive studies by the architect and Community of Jesus as best suiting the monastic tradition and style of worship. Daily services, often sung in Gregorian Chant, are held for members of the community as well as the public.
The space is a long, rectangular nave with narrow side aisles. The lower side walls are deeply sculpted with window recesses in the exterior wall. Upper side walls are angled slightly at the band of the mosaic artwork and clerestory windows to mimic early architectural construction techniques of lightening the structure as the building rises. This method provides natural flutter control and enhances the sustainment of sound in the upper volume.
The apse is rounded in both plan and section at the altar. Shaping is incorporated into the lower bench that wraps the chancel to redirect the effect of the focusing geometry in the lower plane of the room. The curve of the ceiling at the chancel enhances non-amplified speech and singing originating from the altar and front of the room.
The peaked roof of the nave is relatively shallow to support reverberation development in the upper volume of the space while preventing direct reflections from the high ceiling to the floor that would otherwise create echoes or flutter conditions for worshipers.
No amplification is used for speech or singing. The inclusion of audio and video elements was discussed during design, but the Community has chosen to maintain a traditional worship service that utilizes only non-reinforced sound. Infrastructure was incorporated into the building construction to allow installation of audio components in the future, if desired.
Background noise levels in the space are extremely quiet. This is impressive given that the location for the air handling fans and pumps had to be adjacent to the upper side wall of the nave. ‘Box-in-box’ construction at the mechanical equipment room prevents direct transfer of vibration from the equipment to the structure. A series of shafts outside the space and tunnels below the nave floor provide sufficient distance to attenuate the sound of the fans and distribute air efficiently within the space.
Pews are modular and can be moved to allow flexibility of presentations in the space. In addition to worship services, liturgical dance was envisioned as a part of the worship mission.
Construction of this ancient form was accomplished using modern materials. Cast-in-place and precast concrete elements and grout-filled masonry comprise the enclosure of the room. Stone and mosaics along the walls and apse ceiling are directly applied to the concrete and masonry to provide solid wall construction for full-frequency support. In the finish application, the building is reminiscent of early Christian architecture both in form and the construction techniques. Installation of artwork mosaics on the floor and upper walls began shortly after building completion in 2000 and will be ongoing for years to come.
Unique to the room is the organ design. The organ builder, Nelson Barden, has assembled components of various E.M. Skinner Organ Company instruments built in the early part of the 20th century to create a single instrument that spans both sides of the nave. The instrument, installation of which was completed in 2005, includes approximately 12,000 pipes.
A small chapel is incorporated into the building just off the front left side of the nave. This space provides an atmosphere for personal reflection or individual or small group worship. The chapel’s barrel-vaulted ceiling naturally amplifies sound, producing a large, common voice from only a few worshipers. Slightly battered side walls provide flutter control and end gracefully in a ledge of candles. The chapel is simple yet powerfully moving in its architectural and acoustic design.