A Sacred Space to Lift the Spirit

Places / November 9, 2010

With his Tampa Covenant Church, South Florida architect Alberto Alfonso has created a transcendent, living organism that earnestly seeks to raise the spirits of its members. 

“They walk in and give it meaning themselves,” the recipient of the AIA Florida Award of Design Excellence said.  “I tried to do something simple and create a sacred space that elevates us and lifts us up.”

The project is a combination of new construction and renovation, with a 25,000 sq. ft. building for sanctuary, offices and classrooms for a congregation of 450.  The architect also renovated two existing single level buildings, and reassigned parking, lighting and landscaping.  

Alberto reached back to the 14th-century Cathedral of Orvieto in Umbria for the church’s inspiration, though he eschewed its alternating travertine and basalt exterior in favor of a bright, white eggshell plaster.  “I had to be reductive in nature,” he said.  “I wanted to create a space that was a timeless piece of architecture, by stripping it down to its essence.”

Still, he retained one of a church’s age-old means of communicating with both congregation and community.  Tampa Covenant features a bell tower — with a real bell, and rope.  “I attend church there,” he said.  “They all wait in line at the end of the service, and each one gets to ring the bell.”

Inside, metaphors abound.  The entry is a celebration where something special occurs as church members cross the threshold into the sanctuary, which serves as a triune to the Old Testament, New Testament and Holy Spirit.  A reflective carbon steel candle box features seven compartments, one each for the six days of creation and the seventh of rest.  Light baffles softly penetrate a solid frame behind the pastor in his pulpit, evoking a Rothko painting.  Fourteen chandeliers above represent biblical Stations of the Cross.  

His use of the golden section, or divine proportion, is evident with the careful positioning of elements — chapel, walls, cross, and “red scoop” – that harmonize with an ever-widening spiral design.   

The result is a hushed reverence that falls over the congregation.  “People go in and they speak softly,” Alberto said.  “Then they come out, and wonder why they’re still talking so quietly.”

For more on Alberto Alfonso, go to www.alfonsoarchitects.com

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Michael Welton

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on November 9, 2010

Great project! Congratulations to the Architects and for the article that allows to delve into the realization’s philosophy.

Margherita (Italy)

on November 9, 2010

Great article on a wonderful design!

on November 10, 2010

Hard to say what the connection between the Cathedral in Orvieto and the Tampa Covenant Church might be. I’ll have to work on that. Perhaps that the precise busyness of the one and the impeccable simplicity of the other inspire in us the same awed silence mentioned by Alberto Alfonso. So small and yet so great. Nothing about this church seems accidental. Nothing seems merely the whim of the architect. I find the various parts of this remarkable church troubling. I find them, like the immanence of God in the world, just beyond my grasp.

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