The Trust’s Architectural Commendation of the Year was won by St. Anthony’s chapel, off Claypath. It is remarkable in a number of ways. It has succeeded in the formidable challenge of inserting an ecclesiastical building into the centre of a cathedral city. In this instance, traditional materials have been used to produce a modern architectural design of high distinction. Also notable is its successful occupance of a difficult and restricted site. It has created space where no space was, advantage having been taken of the steeply sloping ground to insert vestries and a garage directly beneath the chapel. Not the least remarkable feature is that the building is not the creation of a qualified architect from a leading practice, but of an architectural student.
The finish is of a high quality, both internally and externally. Outside, the Dunhouse stone echoes the solidity of the ecclesiastical architecture on the peninsula, besides complementing the former vicarage building to which it is linked. Inside, the unencumbered, centralised space of the octagonal building embues it with a sense of identity and wholeness. From a modest, but richly-interesting, central altar, four tiers of steps or seats of Kirkstone slate rise to the plain walls with high-level windows arranged in triangular formation. The ceiling, at four levels and twisting from a central hinge like a drill bit, symbolises a spirit of release or freedom. The experience of such sacred space is not confined to the visual, for the chapel is architecture at the service of prayer, designed for the chanting of the daily offices by members of the Community (Society of the Sacred Mission). In this respect, the reverberative qualities of the chapel can still be readily sensed by the lone visitor ‘out-of-hours’.
The chapel was originally to be part of a bigger project for the Community, the whole being the creation of Sarah Menin and presented as a third-year exercise while a student at the Newcastle School of Architecture. Construction was by J.R.C. Builders, Ltd., of St. Helen Auckland, who clearly enjoyed the unusual contract as they sensitively interpreted the wishes of architect and Community.