The commanding granite “tent of meeting” rising at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 54th Street is the seventh home of Saint Peter’s Church.
The stark simplicity and bold angles of the Sanctuary’s exterior form a sculpture of dramatic contrast to the towering, opulent skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan.
The interior is remarkable for its barren serenity and the way in which its design directs people’s gaze outward. Large, clear glass windows stretching some 90 feet above the Sanctuary floor provide constant view of busy street traffic and working office towers.
Saint Peter’s Church is intended as a place of hospitality and welcome, an affirmation of God’s work in midtown Manhattan. Saint Peter’s Church is deeply rooted in New York City, just as New York City is deeply rooted in Saint Peter’s Church. The Sanctuary and all the Church’s many meeting and gathering areas, including an exquisite Chapel by eminent sculptor Louise Nevelson, are open and accessible to all people nearly every hour of the day.
Hugh Stubbins and W. Easley Hamner were the pioneering architects for (what in the late 1970s became) CitiCorp Center, the result of a condominium initiative between CitiBank and Saint Peter’s Church. This urban complex stretches the entire city block between Lexington and Third Avenues and 53rd and 54th Streets. The complex includes an office tower, an atrium, a public plaza, a low-rise office building and the church building. While integrated, the Sanctuary is free-standing.
The design of the building is by Vignelli Associates. The exterior, as well as the interior floor and baptismal font, are of Caledonia granite. The interior employs red oak, steel and a consistent beige paint schema. All furnishings, including those that are in some way fixed, are also moveable or modular in order to facilitate a variety of arrangements.
In the words of the designers: “The interior program for Saint Peter’s Church required a high degree of flexibility. Beyond its normal liturgical functions, the church doubles as a concert hall, theater and conference hall.”
“The diagonal light shaft of the building determined the 45-degree rotation of the square plan. Around the perimeter we designed architectural steps that can open to provide additional seating. A series of movable platforms can be positioned in several patterns and levels according to the needs of a particular service of event…. It was a unique experience, a total design concept for a place that was conceived not simply for a church, but as a ‘moral space’ for a variety of functions.”
Many individuals and organizations, including the Municipal Arts Society, have recognized the significant positive contribution of this building to the urban environment of New York City and to the ethos of the wider society. A number of academic degree programs include study of the condominium model that facilitated the building’s construction and its ongoing vitality.
On-going care for and the integrity of the building and its design aesthetic, as well as an always-developing mission, remains a critical concern to the people of Saint Peter’s Church and many who are committed to it. A design committee, art and architecture review committee and a building fund, along with others partners, are critical not only to the building’s maintenance, but also its lively use.