Soft Interventions: Newport Congregational Church, Newport, Rhode Island, United States
RISD - Dept of Interior Architecture

A U.S. National Landmark due to its 19th century interior murals and stained glass by American artist John La Farge, the Newport Congregational Church represents “the advent of the American mural movement ” and “… an important advance in the manufacture of opalescent glass, the popularization of which …. profoundly influenced the work of Tiffany and other American glass artisans.” Despite its landmark status, the church is in disrepair, suffers from a dwindling congregation and is in need of restoration.

Through exploring potential uses of the church, "Soft Interventions" studies the limits of adaptive reuse within the constraints of protected historic monuments, embracing such constraints through innovation. Focusing on regulations that “New additions and …. related new construction will be undertaken in such a manner that, if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired,” the project expands on the idea of “reversibility” in architectural interventions.

The project transforms the historic church into an exhibit gallery through the insertion of a monumental inflatable textile into the nave, creating a room within a grand room. Designed to float above the pews, the pattern of the technical textile is derived and abstracted from the geometry of La Farge’s stained glass windows, with shapes that direct the visitor toward specific aspects of the La Farge heritage with sudden changes in elevation, plane and form. Utilizing yachting hardware and special sewing techniques, hundreds of yards of ripstop are installed using only three screwed connections, making it a truly “soft” intervention; one of minimal physical and environmental impact while bringing new meaning and new use to the existing structure through non-invasive means.

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