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Volume 69, Issue 135, Friday, April 23, 2004


Student design wins acclaim

Alcantara's interfaith chapel design reacts to an urban situation

by Matt Cooper
The Daily Cougar

A UH architecture student is gaining international recognition for asking people to search for their chapel as well as their faith.

Architecture and environmental design senior Bryant Alcantara is one of four winners in the inaugural Interfaith Sacred Space International Competition. The goal of the contest was to design a non-specific chapel where people of many faiths could gather and worship.

Manuel Rearte/The Daily Cougar
Architecture and environmental design senior Bryant Alcantara's design for an urban interfaith chapel was one of four chosen in an international contest. Alcantara designed a below-grade chapel surrounded by a pool.

Alcantara said his design was part of a class assignment. Students were allowed to submit their work to the contest if they wanted, and Alcantara did so without expecting to win. He said the competition was open not only to students, but to architecture firms as well.

"I really didn't think I had a shot," Alcantara said. "It was a free, open competition. You could do anything you wanted to -- a model, a building, whatever you wanted. You could pick your own site or create a site."

Alcantara decided to work with a real site. He chose a densely populated urban area in Houston for its diversity, which would indicate the need for a multi-faith chapel.

He decided to place the chapel underground to reflect his own views of religion. "The way I look at religion is not as something that is given to you, or that you come upon," Alcantara explained. "It's something that you look for, that you strive to reach. My intention was not to make the building evident to people."

The plans detail an urban chapel recessed in an open space surrounded by a pool. Space is included for a recessed garden and a fellowship hall, with light for the interior filtering in from a glass-bottomed pool on the chapel's roof.

There are two ways to enter the chapel: a set of stairs for a fast descent or a ramp for a slow, casual entrance. The winning chapel designs will be presented July 7 through 13 at a meeting of the Parliament of World Religions in Barcelona. Alcantara said even though he may not be able to attend the meeting, the recognition has improved his self-confidence.

"It's one of those things where somebody actually recognizes your work," he said. "It made me feel like I'm not wasting my time."

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