Catholic University students help design hermitage in busy DC

Students from CUA carry a signed beam for the hermitage while Rev Jeremy Harrington OFM looks on Courtesy of Catholic University of America CNA US Catholic News 4 4 12 Students from CUA carry a signed beam for the hermitage as Fr. Jeremy Harrington, O.F.M., looks on. Courtesy of Catholic University of America.

Architecture students at The Catholic University of America are seeing their design efforts come to life through a project to build a modern-day hermitage in the middle of Washington, D.C.

William Jelen, director of the collaborative project, called the experience “one of the best teaching tools there is,” explaining that he had no idea what a modern-day hermitage would be like.

He said that the design emphasized “the relationship of the sacred with the profane” and was intended to show that “each moment in our lives can be an opportunity for sacred appreciation and meditation.”

Current and former students at the School of Architecture and Planning gathered March 29 at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America to watch their design take on physical form.

Amid the busy backdrop of northeast D.C., the students witnessed the construction of a building that will one day allow for quiet prayer and contemplation.

When it is completed, the 350-square-foot structure will provide a silent and solitary space where a single person can reside for either long or short periods of time.

The hermitage will contain a sleeping area and restroom, as well as a kitchenette, deck and garden.

The design, which won the 2010 Unbuilt Award from the American Institute of Architects in D.C., will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will also be environmentally sustainable, making use of a ground source heat pump, natural ventilation and floorboards of recycled lumber.

The hermitage is scheduled to be finished in July, and three more will be built at a later date.

Alec Higinbotham, who graduated from The Catholic University of America’s architecture and planning school in 2010, returned to see the construction of the building that he helped design.

He explained that while it was one thing to see the digital model of the hermitage, “it’s another thing to see it brought to life.”

Fourteen students were involved in designing the structure. Fifteen more have worked to design furniture and help facilitate the construction of the building.

The project was initially planned after the Franciscan Friars requested the help of the architecture students to design the hermitage in 2009.

Students from The Catholic University of America also helped the friars last year with installing solar panels in the monastery’s gardens in order to power its greenhouse.

Randall Ott, dean of the Architecture and Planning School, expressed gratitude to the monastery “for giving our students the chance for this experience.”

He said that while the students know “how to draw and design,” the hermitage project gives them a greater depth of experience by allowing them to watch the building come into being.

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