Fairfield Jesuit Community Center
The Jesuits at Fairfield University asked us to design a home for their community and a center for their religious mission and to provide an architecture that would reflect their commitment to simplicity, spirituality and intellectualism. Aware of their special role as teachers and spiritual guides, the Jesuits sought a building that would not only provide for their own immediate needs, but might serve as an exemplar of ecological architecture.
Working with the Jesuit Community and University planners, we developed a 20,000 square foot residence and apostolic center at the heart of the campus. The building houses resident Jesuit priests and their Jesuit and lay guests, administrative offices, a chapel, community dining room, great room, and library, providing not only a home to the Jesuit men but a base for the regional Jesuit community and a symbol of the Jesuits’ historical presence on the Fairfield campus. The site is prominent and lovely, a steeply sloping hillside bounded to the south by enormous mature European beech trees which frame distant views to Long Island Sound.
The Center sits on the shoulder of the slope, its community spaces organized beneath the low plane of a garden roof, visible from the Graduation lawn above it, and uninterrupted except by the large monitor that lights the chapel, the spiritual heart of the building. To the eastern campus side, the building’s elevation presents a simple expression of the community, a public entry porch, the altar wall of the chapel, and the large windows of the community great room. To the less trafficked western side, the men’s rooms gain privacy and southerly views, while enclosing a courtyard garden shared by the men and their guests.
The design promotes the smooth function of a combined social center, religious sanctuary, and home and also optimizes the building’s environmental performance. Operable windows promote natural cross ventilation and reduce mechanical equipment loads. Large glazed panels admit winter sunlight onto dark polished concrete floors that absorb solar energy and evenly radiate its warmth throughout the building’s interiors. Natural daylight floods communal spaces, offices, and bedrooms, dramatically reducing the need for electric illumination. Recycled or renewable materials line the building’s surfaces. Our innovative exterior wall system maximizes insulation, reduces thermal conductivity and heat loss through structural members, and ensures the durability of the building envelope through condensation and moisture control. The building overhangs its foundations, protecting the root systems of the giant beech trees that surround it and shade its southerly windows during hot summer months.
In addition to these time-tested practices for minimizing energy consumption, maximizing the comfort of the building’s inhabitants and enhancing their connection to the outdoors, new technologies increase the building’s performance. A garden roof above the community spaces controls and filters storm water, reduces heat loss, and increases the durability of the roof membrane beneath it. A closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling system, fed by fifteen wells beneath the parking area, provides energy to the building without fossil fuels.