Architects: Cunningham Architects
Location: Irwin, Littlefield, TX, USA
Project Team: Gary Cunningham, FAIA, Russell Buchanan, Chris Fultz, Frank Gomillion
Consultants: Jim Smith (structural); MEP, Inc.; Pam Williams (lighting)
Photographs: James F. Wilson
The Abbey Church uses native Texas limestone to reflect on the 1000-year old Cistercian Order founded in 1096 during the Romanesque period. The austere and harmonious Romanesque Order was an appropriate architectural inspiration with its quiet and restrained nature reflecting the aura of the monks’ life. The humble and human characteristics of this period of Architectural history are also clearly appropriate for the present day philosophy of the Abbey.
The church, a straight nave plan, completes an existing monastery to the south and engages an existing hill of native trees to the north. Limestone blocks enclosing the sacred space were finish cut from a west Texas quarry, split and trucked to the site, and set on a 1” bed of mortar. The grey weathered pieces of stone exude the surface qualities of the quarry, with the average block measuring 3’ x 6’ x 2’ deep.
One enters the church through fir wood doors by way of a portico supported by eight turned stone columns. The side aisle openings are formed by cast in place concrete columns. Stone engages the floor in the choir where the monks celebrate four times daily. The copper shingle clad roof is supported by a glulam roof structure held in tension by ½” stainless steel cables and is held off of the stone walls by steel brackets, allowing light to enter from above and graze the split stone surface. The skylights and windows are comprised of hand-poured 1” thick glass tiles. The side aisle roofs rest on plaster finished, site-cast tilt-wall concrete panels.