Steven Holl and Color: 5 Things I Love About Seattle’s St. Ignatius Chapel

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Steven Holl’s St. Ignatius Chapel is an amazing architectural achievement. Its sublime combination of color, light, and texture strikes the perfect balance of beauty and transcendence.

'What makes the interior so arresting and enigmatic are the halos of softly pigmented light sliced through by shocking patches of otherworldly color'.

Sheri Olson, Architectural Record


The chapel is composed of mostly raked white plaster surfaces, and color is introduced in unexpected ways.  The sources of color are mostly hidden, revealing themselves to worshippers as the sun moves across the sky and they begin to peek out from behind the surfaces that hide them.


Colored lenses and windows allow diffused, colored light to enter the church. These colored light boxes trace their way around the space through the day, changing shape as the light angle varies and the folded planes cut into their path.


According to a study by psychologist Faber Birren, the human eye is most pleased by either subtle shifts in color or complimentary colors, the latter being used at the St. Ignatius Chapel. Red is paired with green, blue with yellow, and purple with orange. One color acts as the lens while the other as the reflected surface.



Color values shift as time passes, which is perfect for a place of worship. One attending a service there has a sense of time passing while in the chapel through the ever-shifting colors. As the sun moves across the sky, the light travels through the colored lenses and creates a moving box that also works with a haze of reflected light in its complimentary color.  Through the days and seasons these alternately diffuse and focused colors dance around each other, creating an ever-changing symphony of light and color.


The chapel is designed as a series of colored bottles in a box. The color palette changes around worshippers as they move through the space—heightening awareness of their surroundings. This serves to intensify their sense of awe when faced with greater contemplation of our creation and place in the world.

It’s a superb setting to contemplate the divine. Well done, Mr. Holl!

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