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Honeycomb Chapel

Honeycomb Chapel takes a new approach to sustainability by combining the tectonic/structural system with the lighting system. Composed of geodesic modules, this structure creates an environment which accommodates two distinctly different zones. By using smaller modules and increasing their depth, the natural daylight is funneled toward the center of the room and away from the perimeter. Standing in the center of the room, one can see through every wall, rendering the room transparent, however when located near the perimeter of the room, the walls appear opaque. This natural light control, accompanied by the complex geometry of this semi-opaque structure, creates an ideal environment for focused activity, such as worship. While geodesic domes have been around since the late 1940's, this particular application of the geodesic structure looks at light in a very different way - controlling it rather than simply maximizing it.

Triangulated geometry is very stable, typically requires little material, and allows maximum light penetration into a space, however Honeycomb Chapel uses the same geometry to instead control light and create a natural hierarchy to the room. The center of the space receives natural direct light all day long, all year long, creating a natural focal point. The seating placed around the perimeter receives primarily indirect light, enhancing the hierarchy of the space. All attention is naturally drawn toward the center of the room.

Consider structural honeycomb as a model for building. Honeycomb is made of hollow cells (typically hexagonal shaped, like a bee hive) sandwiched between two planes. If the cells are viewed from straight on, the material appears transparent, but when viewed from an angle, the surface renders as opaque.

Honeycomb as seen from an angle

Honeycomb as seen from straight ahead

Honeycomb as seen from an angle Honeycomb as seen from straight ahead

Typical construction of structural material

Neither the hexagonal cells nor the planes are structural alone, however when combined they create a very light weight, very stiff material. By triangulating each of the hexagons, a geodesic structure (an energetic-synergetic structure) is created and eliminates the need for the two planes, however, light still penetrates the material in a similar fashion. This diagram illustrates how geodesic stability is derived from all the web connections within the hexagon supporting each other equally.

The goal of this design is to not only create a stable structure, unobstructed by columns, but to also create a space where natural light creates a focal point and the mind can focus. This can be adapted to a plethora of building types and technique, but lends itself especially well to a small chapel or public pavilion. Another use for this technique could be a greenhouse that requires different zones. Plants that require direct light all day, such as sunflowers, can be placed in the center, whereas plants that only thrive in indirect light, such as orchids, could be placed around the perimeter. This could also be used for other applications such as an event space (weddings, picnics, etc) or even a retail space where the client values natural light, or an atrium lobby where people may want natural light but little direct light. Despite any specific use, what makes this design unique is that, unlike other structures, the brightest area is near the center of the volume, which draws the programs inward. This makes it fundamentally different than traditional structures.

As an example of how this concept controls light, here is a lighting study which tests the ability of a grid of rectangles to funnel direct light toward the center of the space. You can see how the light stays primarily in the center, but bleeds into the outskirts of the room, especially during sunrise and sunset. This light can be funneled more/less by increasing/decreasing the depth of the honeycomb structure. This study also utilizes semi-translucent plastic that could be 3D printed or injection molded (see section 'Can It Be Built'). This material choice increases the diffused light while still controlling the direct light toward the center.

In temperate climates, this could work without any skin because the elements (sun and wind) would be primarily controlled by the grid, however a simple glass skin could easily be mounted on the exterior to add weather proofing and added to the interior to increase insulation performance.

Here is a similar lighting study, seen with a section cut. In this case the structure is not semi-translucent and renders more like paper or painted wood. The materials used in construction could range from chrome to an array of colors, however white provides a neutral medium. Also, the color of the structure affects the color of the light entering, changing the mood on the inside. Colors could be applied on the glass surface to create completely unique and original light patterns. Being inside becomes an experience - a dance of light, happening at a micro pace.


CAN IT BE BUILT? Honeycomb Chapel can be scaled up or down, depending on the use. If it spans large atriums of thousands of square feet, it would probably need to be built out of steel or wood glulam beams, however at smaller sizes, such as a diameter of 10'-40', the structure could be broken down into modules that are easy and cheap to manufacture, transport, and assemble. The module could be broken down into individual triangles, but that may create challenges for connecting the glass glazing, sealing against weather, and more. By using a larger module, each piece is still within human scale, but construction is faster, there are less opportunities for connections to fail, and waterproofing becomes much more predictable. By combining the tectonic system and passive lighting systems into a singular expression, the form becomes more beautiful, more interesting, and more sustainable - emotionally, environmentally, and financially. This concept could be applied parametrically to more complex forms and create various focal points throughout the space, lending itself toward art exhibits, retail spaces, courtyards, atria, pavilions and many others. What could you use it for?

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