Artist behind inflatable chapel aims to redefine sacred space
The inflatable chapel opened at the University of Southern California in August.
August 31st, 2011
01:33 PM ET

Artist behind inflatable chapel aims to redefine sacred space

By Rosalina Nieves, CNN

Los Angeles, California (CNN) - At first glance, the blown-up plastic bags affixed to a jungle gym-like frame residing in a University of Southern California courtyard looks like a piece of public art, pure and simple.

But the structure's creator says it’s something more: a sacred place for people of all faiths. He calls it an inflatable chapel.

“I wanted to create a spiritual structure, so I combined every symbolic piece of religion and geometrically combined them to represent them in this chapel,” says Gail Peter Borden, an architect and assistant professor at the USC School of Architecture who designed the structure.

The chapel, which went up earlier this month, incorporates the cross, the Star of David and the yin and yang, among other religious symbols.

Borden, an Episcopalian who says he's not very religious, wants to redefine notions of sacred space. He says his love for architecture, art and religion inspired him to create the chapel, which is made of aluminum electrical conduit and translucent vinyl plastic.

Though it bears little resemblance to a traditional chapel, Borden says it connects visitors to a higher being, whoever that being may be.

“The focal point of this chapel is on the inside,” he says. “You get up in the middle of it, and you look up and see the way the light comes in, the symmetrical shapes that surround the opening. Everyone will have their own experience.”

Reverend Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life at USC, says he learned about Borden when a local paper ran story profiling an earlier inflatable chapel that he crafted. That chapel resembled an igloo.

Burklo thought an inflatable chapel at the university would provoke students’ curiosity. USC commissioned the structure.

“I want them to come here and have some experience of the sacred dimension of life,” Burklo says. “It can be just whimsy, like ‘that is weird’ or ‘that is a funny looking thing.’”

Many students echoed that sentiment in their initial reactions. “If someone hadn’t told me it was a chapel, I would have never guessed it,” said Daniel Doran, a sophomore at USC. “It’s interesting.”

Doran doesn’t affiliate with any religion but said he might return to the chapel again. Still, he was skeptical of experiencing a spiritual connection.

Burklo hopes the chapel offers students like Doran have a chance to step out of their usual way of looking at the world, to experience something spiritual, even if they don’t describe it as a religious experience.

“This is a visual experience that helps them express that and feel that, that side of themselves,” he says.

The chapel will stay in the courtyard of USC’s religious center until December. Borden says he then plans to reconfigure the chapel into a new design and is considering other sites for it.

“It’s not meant to be here or anywhere forever,” Burklo said. “That’s also an expression of spirituality, fluid change.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Art • California • Church

soundoff (172 Responses)
  1. RevBilly

    Does it come with a blow-up Jesus?

    August 31, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  2. LongBeachBum

    I, like a couple of others think this would be a great idea as most preachers are so full of hot air that they could put some of it to use by blowing up these inflatable churches.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  3. David Johnson

    Yes! A place to worship, for people who always wanted to pray in a condom!


    August 31, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Patster

      Funny! I like the blow up Jesus idea too.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  4. john

    why not? they are filled with hot air already

    August 31, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  5. adam

    Since they are usually full of hot air, it should be easy to implement.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  6. MR

    Why is the Cross not capitalized? Like Star of David is. The Cross is a religious symbol and when used to describe it. It must be capitalized. I am sure that if the Jewish community saw that Star of David was not capitalized the whole world would hear about it saying that is disrespectful to their religion.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Ah, the old christian persecution complex. The catholic church doesn't even capitalize the word cross on their official website. Are the offending themselves?

      I wasn't aware that there was some rule in the English language that requires the respect of all religions. Who knew?

      August 31, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Yes! I don't capitalize "god", out of protest that the ancient Greek gods are referred to in lower case.

      Is not one god just as real as another? It is an outrage!

      Good post!


      August 31, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  7. Jon A

    How do we know the atheists won't come along and pop them?

    August 31, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Or fart in them, for that matter... Maybe this would be a bad idea.


      August 31, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • JT

      No...it's too comical to mess with. You Christians are so entertaining. If only you would realize how we billions of unbelievers view you. Well....you do actually. You view Zeus as a myth.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  8. Voltairine


    August 31, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  9. Homer

    God's sending you a message, but you aren't listening. lol


    August 31, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • kurtinco

      This is dumb.

      August 31, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  10. the jimster

    inflatable chapels??? only for inflatable brides!!

    August 31, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  11. EnergyBeing3

    I'd be extra impressed if it was made from recycled materials. Just a thought.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  12. zoundsman

    Oh, add the Bounce feature, and have work off some pounds during the sermon.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Shemp Howard

      and a great way to attract children....wait....strike that.

      "da neh nah nah neh!"

      August 31, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  13. William Demuth

    Sorry but this just seems silly to me.

    Probably more usefull as an inflatible mourgue.

    I mean couldn't you at least make it looks like one of those inflatible jungle gyms they have at state fairs?

    August 31, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  14. God

    Where two or three are gathered together in my name.....

    August 31, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Pass a plate and defrauded them?

      Have two of the three burn the third as a witch?

      Have the two agree and torment the third for being different?

      August 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  15. EnergyBeing3

    Article says..... "Though it bears little resemblance to a traditional chapel, Borden says it connects visitors to a higher being, whoever that being may be."

    That sounds healthy to me. I like this idea. I also like the idea of not pushing any doctrines or outdated religious rules and simply being happy to be alive, together and rejoice with shared consciousness.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  16. Crillie

    Hot air.....

    August 31, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  17. Rick

    What a bunch of meaningless drivel. A professor indulges a whim, gets a grant to act on this stupid-ass thing; and we all act like "oh, wow, how spiritual". The priest probably cringing at how "insightful" the comments that these "not very religeous" students and teacers now "have a new way to look at things...". It's like I turned on the babble-spigot for a few minutes. Now I'm turning it off. Self-indulgent fluff.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • EnergyBeing3

      Rick, pretty much agree with your post. Although, if I wanted to rejoice for being apart of the Universe and show compassion and thanks to my fellow humans, this would be FAR better than going to a building and having to look at a torture device (the crucifix) or worse, a dead corpse hanging from the torture device. I think it's a novel idea in the right direction of spiritualism.

      August 31, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  18. Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

    sounds about as useful as a brick and mortar one.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  19. Spendlove

    That is so ugly it could be a modern art masterpiece.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  20. Barnacle Bill

    The belief in ridiculous things needs an equally ridiculous structure to house it.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • JPX


      August 31, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.