The Catholic University of America

March 26, 2008

Students to Build Chair for Pope Benedict XVI's CUA Visit

Christopher Fullam, Siobhan Steen, Doug Pettit and Javid Farazad designed Pope Benedict XVI's chair for his speech at CUA.
When the winners of the papal design contest were chosen in late January, junior Siobhan Steen of Paris, France, who had also submitted a contest entry, was disappointed.

But not for long.

A few days later, Steen, along with her teammates Javid Farazad of Bethesda, Md., Doug Pettit of North Branford, Conn., and Christopher Fullam of Reading, Pa., were notified by architecture Dean Randall Ott that their design had been chosen for another papal purpose: Pope Benedict XVI's chair in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, where he will give a major address on Catholic education on April 17. Steen, Farazad and Fullam are undergraduates in the School of Architecture and Planning. Pettit is a candidate in the school's master's program.

Graduate students John-Paul Mikolajczyk, of Staten Island, N.Y., and Ryan Mullen, of Manchester, N.H., were selected as the original contest winners and will construct a pulpit, lectern and chair that will become part of the sanctuary for the Mass that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the morning of April 17 at the city's new baseball stadium, Nationals Park.

"We were overwhelmed with the quality of the entries," Ott said of the 21 designs originally submitted. After surveying the displays, Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., university president, suggested using one of the other designs for the Pryzbyla Center speech. He was particularly attracted to the chair design by Steen and her colleagues, Ott noted, and so several days later, the dean approached the four students with the news.

"It was the opportunity of a lifetime to combine our skills and create something for one of the most influential men on the planet," Steen said. "There was no way any of us could have passed up this experience."

The small model, made of balsa wood, was originally designed with a pulpit and altar, envisioned for Pope Benedict XVI's Mass at Nationals Park.
The designers used horizontal planes to represent how humans are bound to Earth, but those planes transform into vertical lines stretching upward to represent the purity and grace of heaven.

"The design of these furnishings grew from our knowledge of the pope as the intermediary between a grounded humanity and the holy realm of heaven," Steen said. "This concept illustrates how His Holiness exists on an illuminated horizon between the human and the divine."

The students will construct the chair with the help of Jefferson Millwork & Design Inc. in Sterling, Va., which will oversee the fabrication.

Ott notes that the group's entry was a "very solid and dignified design that was very human in its scale and would give adequate focus to the pope while he sat to offer his address."

He noted the difference in location and purpose between a televised Mass at a stadium for 50,000 people and an address inside the Pryzbyla Center's Great Room for about 600 people. "The parameters of the two events are very different," Ott said. "The two solutions actually being built are quite distinct, reflecting the different needs of the two situations. I think they both will be very appropriate."

MEDIA: For more information or to interview the student designers, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy at 202-319-5600.