The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has named to its list of top ten houses for 2012 the Fairfield Jesuit Community Center, an apostolic outreach center that is also home to Jesuit priests on the Fairfield University campus in Fairfield, Conn.
The national AIA Housing and Custom Residential Knowledge Community established the annual Housing Awards to emphasize the importance of good housing as a necessity of life, a sanctuary for the human spirit, and a valuable national resource. The Jesuit Community and Fairfield University officials worked closely with Gray Organschi Architects, of New Haven, Connecticut, on the design of the Fairfield Jesuit Community Center, a structure which balances the need for reflection among religious men with their gift for engagement and hospitality.
According to the AIA, the architecture of the building reflects the Jesuits' commitment to simplicity, spirituality, and intellectualism. The AIA jurors observed: "The community and the simplicity of it and the way you can be inside but that you're still connected to the outside — it is a beautiful iteration of a modern center. The chapel and the way it is set up for a service allows for beautiful interaction."
It is the fourth major design award given for the center, with previous honors coming from the AIA Connecticut and New England chapters. It also received a national Builder's Choice award. "These awards are given by professionals telling other professionals they should look and study these structures," said Rev. Gilbert Sunghera, S.J., assistant professor of architecture at the University of Detroit Mercy, who served as a consultant to Fairfield on the project. "It is always good if buildings at our Jesuit institutions also teach through their design."
It is a light-filled structure using sustainable technology, such as a green roof, recycled building materials and geothermal heating and cooling system. By placing the building within an existing grove of Beech trees, the architects were able to capture a unique Jesuit perspective, that of being rooted in the local condition while setting your gaze to that beyond — Bridgeport to the east, the Long Island Sound to the south.
Elizabeth Gray and Alan Organschi were both recipients of the 2012 Architecture Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for their contributions to the profession, with the innovative Fairfield building mentioned among the architects' notable achievements. Jesuit Fr. Sunghera, whose research is in sacred spaces, described the architects as "a team respectful of our sacred mission of education, and our goal to be good stewards of the Earth."
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