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B a c k P a g e

Nature’s Sway Rocking in the wind with the trees, a rustic outdoor chapel suggests openness to all beliefs

Built on the banks of Lake Bastrop this interfaith chapel forms a contemplative moment within the pine forest just east of Austin. Commissioned by the Boy Scouts of America Capitol Area Council, the open-air structure hosts all manner of religious gatherings. The gate-like structure, oriented east to west, frames a view across the lake of the setting sun. The precision and simplicity of the frame geometry plays off the rustic quality of the sawn cedar members that vary in refinement, from the roughest at the bottom to the most refined at the top. The lower 4x10-inch members were sawn on two sides from 10-inch diameter cedar logs. Upper frame elements transition to sawn two-side 4x8-inch to sawn four-side 3x6-inch, then finally to sawn four-side 2x4-inch members that cross at the top of the frames. The building design grew out of a computer modeling exercise that I conducted with students in an advanced design studio at UT Austin. The exercise demonstrated how very complex forms can occur by repeating a simple combination of basic computer model parts. As the design developed, the computer model became a tool to identify the exact number and size of wood members, as well as apply cost data and communicate infor-


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mation to a local saw mill. The design team also sent digital plate profiles to a steel fabricator who cut the plates using a CNC (computer numerically controlled) machine. Built for approximately $40,000, the chapel was designed by LZT Architects (Herman Thun, Jr., AIA, Lucas Brown, Valerie Valdez, and myself). Structural engineers for the project were David Powel, PE, and Joelle Rosentswieg, PE. The contractor was David Moore. Each of the 22 frames is composed of eight members interconnected with steel plates and bolts. The identical frames, bundled together horizontally by two cables in tension, rotate incrementally to create an arcing in plan. Since the lower members are wider and become narrower toward the top, the upper members do not touch and are free to sway in the wind along with the pine trees of the surrounding forest. The frame rotation’s fluid quality, like the movement of water in the lake beyond, also implies mutability, a character that strengthens the building’s form to its program, that of an interfaith chapel. Murray Legge, AIA, is a principal of LZT Architects in Austin.

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Images by Murray Legge, AIA

by Murray Legge, AIA

Texas Architect May/June 2008: Healing Environments  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...

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