Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Monumental Chapel and Frank E. Brown Bell Tower

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Institution Name: Virginia Wesleyan College
Original/Historic Place Name: Monumental Chapel and Frank E. Brown Bell Tower
Location on Campus: south campus (1584 Wesleyan Dr., Norfolk, VA 23502)
Date(s) of Construction:
1975original construction Shriver & Holland Associates
Designer: Shriver and Holland Associates
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Modern/post-WWII (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, history, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Walls: brick and cast stone, bell tower cast in exposed quartz aggregate
Roof: flat roof
1975-present (2006)chapel
1975-present (2006)auditorium

The architectural style is a local version of late modernist, modular-sculptural design, with affinities to better known buildings like Marcel Breuer's Whitney Museum and St. John's Abbey Church and Bell Tower in Collegeville, Minnesota.

Like other buildings on campus, and like much Virginian public architecture since colonial times, the chapel is red brick and white, but in keeping with the modernist mode, the surfaces are unadorned. The main mass is a simple rectangle pierced with unusual, asymmetrically-placed trapezoidal and hexagonal windows. The rectangular mass is coupled with a large pylon form that gives the structure its unique character. The pylon is about a story taller than the main mass and features a clerestory of glass which, extending uninterrupted the width of the building, is the primary source of interior light. Both the pylon section of the chapel and the impressively scaled (108' tall) Bell Tower reflect the prevailing taste of late modernist architectural aesthetics. In this case, the scale and the double vertical accents integrate the structure handsomely with the surrounding woods.

Envisioned soon after the college opened its doors, the Chapel, with its secular style and emphasis on multi-purpose use, embodies the commitment to religious freedom and tolerance underlying the mission of the college, as does its association with the Methodist church and its establishment of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom.


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Last update: November 2006