Sunflower Chapel

Spring 2012 — Sunflower Chapel, Agua Dolce Farms, Austin, TX; 1,000 sf, chain-link education space

This proposal was created specifically for a new co-op farm in southeast Austin, TX. Seven groups in our Construction class proposed designs, and my group’s Sunflower Chapel design shown here was chosen by the clients and our professor to be built during the remainder of the semester.

The sunflower chapel is named partly for the field of sunflowers in front and partly because sunflowers are happy, inviting, and open to the sky—all traits with which we wanted to infuse our chapel. We created an exterior that is welcoming and looks like an icon. Within, we created a space that shelters and embraces its visitors and also provides a peaceful gardening space.

Since Agua Dolce Farm wanted a chapel that would fit in with their community and include their neighbors, we wanted our design to express that idea but also to gather and embrace whoever visits. From this, we decided to tilt our chain link walls backwards and extend them upwards so it looks as though they are outstretched to embrace the community. This mimics the behavior of the sunflowers that will be planted right outside and face the bright sky. We also extended the walls forward to embrace people walking up to the chapel and encourage them to come inside. The front and back walls will be made out of wood to provide a contrast to the lightness of the winged chain link walls.

Once inside, we didn’t want people to feel exposed and vulnerable, especially since Agua Dolce Farm made the point that the neighborhood is still a bit rough and things need to be locked down. On the inside, the roof is lowered directly over the door and gradually rises, pulling you in and creating a natural gathering space in the center that feels protected but is also filled with light and doesn’t feel confined. The roof isn’t solid, but is made of strips of chain link panels that are hung flat and only overlap a little bit so that when the panels are overgrown with vines, the openings will act like clerestory windows and let in more light. The interior is meant to be different from the exterior, surprising people when they enter for the first time since there’s no indication of the lowered roof from the front.

We saw the interior as needing space for a large group to gather, a secondary smaller space for flexible use as storage or personal reflection, and plenty of room for growing herbs and plants. We imagined the main group would gather together in the center, surrounded by tables of herbs, sitting inside a beautiful garden and the heart of the farm. Using the natural gentle slope of the site already, we decided it best to level off the ground into three separate levels with only a 6″ height difference, each level for a different use, but all levels also including space for growing herbs. Since the grade changes are so shallow, the interior is organized and flexible so that the layout can be changed as needed.

The exterior walls are double-lined for the full height of the interior, letting the wings that reach upwards look more delicate and ethereal. Along the interior, a swath of chain link panels through the center of the chapel from front to back will be double-lined to shade the central gathering space. We wanted to create a couple of different zones of dappled light to create peaceful areas for gathering and reflection, and brighter areas for growth.