Xavier University’s new St. Katharine Drexel Chapel is designed with mystery in mind. The new $10 million dollar chapel juts like the Rock of Gibraltar toward the Pontchartrain Expressway. Thousands of commuters have watched it grow at the northeast edge of the campus for the past two years. The gem-like, faceted design is the work of César Pelli, a Connecticut-based international architecture star.

For several years Pelli’s Petronas Towers, a pair of 88-story art deco buildings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were the world’s tallest buildings. The sky-scraping scalloped columns, conjoined by an aerial bridge, remain an international architectural icon.

The Drexel Chapel, which is Pelli’s first-ever church design, is scheduled to be dedicated on Oct. 6 with an invitation-only Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond, followed by a week of Masses, tours and concerts that are open to the public.

On a recent visit to the almost-complete structure, a squad of landscapers swarmed around the chapel, quilting together squares of sod. Elsewhere, inscriptions were being sandblasted into the chapel’s stone exterior and melodies soared from the church organ as it was tested for sound. Despite the last-minute bustle, David Coon, the member of Pelli’s architectural team responsible for the construction of the chapel, found time to lead a tour.

At every step, Coon revealed elements of the logic behind the design that, he said, was guided largely by Pelli’s associate Mitchell Hirsch. read more…