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.

Charlotte_Airport_Chapel_Exterior.jpg

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.

Charlotte_Chapel_Interior.jpg

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