The Catholic University of America

Feb. 26, 2009

CUA and Basilica Partner for Dome Design Competition

Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, rector of the Basilica, introduces the Trinity Dome Design Competition.

Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, called on Catholic University students with "young minds, young inspiration and young talent," to participate in a design competition for spatial design concepts for the mosaic in the Basilica's Trinity Dome.

Monsignor Rossi addressed students who gathered at CUA's Edward M. Crough Center for Architectural Studies on Feb. 25 for the opening of the competition sponsored by CUA and the Basilica. The competition, which challenges students to explore the complex variety of issues related to viewers' perception of the dome mosaic, is open to all Catholic University students.

Competitors must take into account the many angles from which the dome will be viewed throughout the Basilica. The dome rises more than 150 feet above the floor and is 89 feet wide.

"With this joint undertaking (by the Basilica and CUA) we believe we will have a better idea of what we can achieve," Monsignor Rossi said. "We believe we can come up with a beautiful way to decorate the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception."

Monsignor Rossi pointed out that the Trinity Dome is five times the size of the other four domes in the Basilica that already have been completed. It is the underside of the blue exterior Great Dome that is an indelible part of the Catholic University landscape. It is the last dome to be decorated.

From left: Randall Ott, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning; Provost James Brennan; Geraldine Rohling, Basilica archivist and curator; Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington; Bertha Braddock, member of the CUA Board of Trustees; George Martin, associate professor of architecture and planning; Anthony J. Segreti, architect, and Monsignor Rossi.

Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, university chancellor and chairman of the board of trustees of the Basilica, spoke about the importance of sacred space in the life of the Church - how a place of worship must not only be large enough to accommodate worshipers, but also dignified enough for the celebration of sacraments.

"There should be a space, a place … where you can go and be enveloped in the glory and beauty and wonder of God," Archbishop Wuerl said. "Each of those magnificent mosaics (in the Basilica) speaks to us not only with our eyes, but with our minds and our hearts of the grandeur of God."

Following the kickoff event, Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., university president, expressed his support for the competition. "The relationship between The Catholic University of America and the Basilica of the National Shrine has long been a mutually supportive one," he said.

"I am delighted by this competition and very grateful to Monsignor Rossi for inviting the participation of our students from CUA's School of Architecture and Planning. The Basilica is such a special place for our entire nation and even more immediately special for our university community members who live on campus," he added. "We take great pride in our historic relationship."

At the contest kickoff, James F. Brennan, university provost, noted that "The competition captures the excitement of this unique opportunity afforded to our students, both in and outside of the School of Architecture and Planning. It also reflects the valuable academic benefits of this partnership involving the university and our great neighbor, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception."

Ryan Mullen, CUA master's candidate in architecture and planning, gave a demonstration of computer software that students can use to help create their designs. Mullen became well known at CUA and beyond when he and classmate John Paul Mikolajczyk won the competition sponsored by CUA and the Archdiocese of Washington for the design of furnishings for Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in Nationals Park last spring.

Graduate student Ryan Mullen demonstrates software students can use for the design competition.

Randall Ott, dean of the architecture and planning school, noted, "No flat piece of paper can give you an impression of what art on a dome will look like." Mullen created digital models with the 3D software based on the Basilica's dimensions. Students will be able to scan in their original flat images and have them "actualized" so they can see them in the three-dimensional perspectives of the dome. (More information on this technology and the competition is available here.)

Entries will be on display at the Crough Center's Miller Exhibit Room from March 13 to March 23.

The winners of the contest will be announced on March 23 at noon in the Crough Center, Koubek Auditorium. The Basilica will award cash prizes of $1,000 for first place, $750 for second place and $500 for third place. The prize-winning submissions will be on display in the Miller Exhibit Room through April 14.

MEDIA: For more information contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in CUA's Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600 or Jacquelyn Hayes, director of communications of the Basilica, at 202-281-0615.

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