After fire destroyed Breck School’s chapel at its campus on River Road in Minneapolis, the school decided to move the campus west to Golden Valley, and hired Cuningham Group to design the new Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
Breck desired a simple and strong chapel to serve as a focus for its campus community. The design serves multiple uses and includes a music room, lecture hall and study area in addition to the worship space. A gallery, located in the back of the Chapel, serves as gathering space before and after events. Special attention was given to design flexibility, lighting and acoustics to accommodate the multipurpose nature of the facility.
During the comprehensive planning process, John Cuningham and the team visited all of the classrooms and the staff. “In 1980, when we got to the second-grade classroom, they had many suggestions but two stuck with me,” Cuningham recalled. “The first one was to slope the floor so they could see and the second was to arrange the seating in sort of a semi-circle so they could see the seniors. I asked them why, and they said ‘because that is what are we are going to be.'”
“There were many other suggestions, including making the windows clear so we can see the seasons change, put in an art gallery so we can see student work, make it the center of the campus so we can see it from everywhere,” he continued. “Make it feel reverent and comfortable.”
When it opened in 1982, the 1,300-seat Chapel was Minnesota’s largest Episcopal worship space, though no seat is located farther than 60 feet from the altar. The chapel won the AIA MN 25th anniversary award in 2008.
“In 1984, right out of college, I started working at Breck School in Golden Valley, MN, as the Lower School secretary,” recalled Julie Lang, an associate principal. “Sally Cuningham was among the talented teaching staff during my time there and that’s where I learned her husband, John, was responsible for the Breck Chapel of the Holy Spirit, a place of calm and inspiration in my workplace. When I learned there was a position available with John, I applied and got the job. The very last thing I did at Breck was to address an assembly of the Lower School from the altar of the Breck Chapel. The view was breathtaking. I later discovered I was seeing the space in exactly the way its use was envisioned in the design.”