January 14, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

I have serious problems with most airport chapels. As an architect, I’ve spent a lot of time working with congregations, striving to make places of significance. In the last few years, I’ve made an effort to visit a number of airport chapels and I can’t say that many of them were created with much design thought. Most are little more than decorated closets.


Case in point is the airport chapel in Charlotte. Located along an upper level of service rooms, it is sort of visible from the main public space. There’s a large paper “Chapel” sign filling the window. The porthole window in the door has a small stained glass piece. It’s the emblem of the International Association of Civil Airport Chaplains, but otherwise the solid door isn’t much of an invitation to enter. Inside is a mismatch of furnishings and symbols in an otherwise small and unremarkable room. There is a surveillance camera in the ceiling, along with a half-peeled off sticker to indicate the direction towards Mecca.


The airport chaplaincy has gotten some good press recently, and the ministry is clearly needed and underappreciated. Charlotte’s Chaplaincy has its own website with a number of supporters and selfless clergy who serve the traveling public. With all the attention to improving airports and creating some truly magnificent spaces for travelers, I wish the same priority would go into the design of a truly appropriate worship place. The chaplains, and all of us travelers deserve better.

Sacred Architecture