As with all educational institutions, the visual identity of a Christian college results from both a professional’s design principles and users’ own experiences and associations. While the two may be related, they are by no means the same. A logical symbolic center for many Christian campuses, a chapel facilitates religious activity and carries emotional attachments bound up with the community’s sense of place. However, it is not clear how the community members of a Christian college perceive the importance of their chapel relative to the importance placed on it by an architect’s strong campus design principles.
Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, serves as a case study, offering an example of how a college community might regard the importance of a chapel building over and against its architect’s strong design principles. The chapel building was not conceived as a primary expression of the college’s visual identity and thus was only incidentally associated with the architect’s overarching vision for the campus. This case study asks if the community of Calvin College perceives the chapel as a powerful campus placemarker contributing to the current visual identity of the institution. The results of this study illustrate that a chapel building can work as an institutional symbol for a Christian college, representing the institution’s identity even when it stands apart from strong campus design principles.
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