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. John Richardson

    Well, it looks like this chapel has already performed its first miracle: getting the believers and non-believers on CNN's belief blog to finally speak with one voice "YUCK!!!!" 😀

    August 31, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @John R.

      LOL...!!! 😀

      Peace brother...

      September 1, 2011 at 3:21 am |
  2. Mortin

    It does not matter what "faith" you believe in, nor what god you pray to, it is all a lie. There are no gods! Wake up.

    August 31, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • objectiveopinion

      Yes, another non-believer! To anyone who does believe in god, why do catholic priest molest young boys? Why are the Vatican walls adorned with art? Why does the pope run around in a bullet proof car?

      August 31, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Amistavia

      Just think of all of the starving third world children that could be fed if the artwork and gold held in Vatican City was sold and the proceeds used to buy food. What pathetic hypocrites.

      August 31, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Martin T

      I am an openly, Proud, Atheist.!

      August 31, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  3. Amistavia

    There's certainly enough hot air in Christianity to fill it up.

    August 31, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  4. JT

    You Christians are so goofy. You don't really believe in all that sh** do you?

    August 31, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  5. John


    August 31, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  6. Eddy

    People in inflatable chapels shouldn't throw darts.

    August 31, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  7. Religious Sects

    Fill it with helium! The sermon will be more interesting & maybe just maybe it will float away!

    August 31, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  8. Mick

    Oh yes...a chapel, that's it! No. really, you shouldn't have told me, I would have guessed it in an instant!

    August 31, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  9. IceT

    What a great use for all that hot air!

    August 31, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  10. Dawn

    I got a good laugh reading everybody's comments on this article.

    My first though when I read the headline was "Marriage To Go,"

    If you want to get married on the cheap, don't want to wait for a religious space at a church or other house of worship, want to avoid procedural hassle, are afraid of enclosures but want your marriage to take place in a structure of some sort, love hearing birds sing during services, hate making elaborate plans...... hold your marriage in an inflatable chapel. 🙂

    Seriously, the idea of an inflatable chapel seems very strange. The point of outdoor meditation or prayer is being outdoors. I am not sure why anybody would want to get married in such a chapel, aside from having an unusual story to tell the grandchildren.

    August 31, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  11. *frank*

    Italy should nationalize Vatican City and throw the Pope's ass in that contraption.

    August 31, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Dawn

      Good idea. 🙂

      August 31, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  12. Sharky

    I got really stoned one day and duct taped a bunch of tent poles and balloons together. Then my boss asked me where I had been all day so I told him I built a sacred place for people of all faiths. Luckily for me, my boss is stupid.

    August 31, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Sabina

      If you would have been passing a basket & taking people's money, he would have realized right away that it was a church. Oh... and not paying taxes either.

      August 31, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  13. Superchik

    Wait a minute! So people CAN redefine what's sacred? WHUUUUUUT? So...can marriage be next?

    August 31, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Mike

      Its too late, marriage is long gone. There's nothing sacred about marriage anymore.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Hey -Mike...

      " Its too late, marriage is long gone. There's nothing (sacred) about marriage anymore. "

      What exactly do you mean when you say..."Marriage is long gone."...?

      And, what specifically do you believe that is "sacred" that is no longer involved with marriage anymore...? Please be specific.




      September 1, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Answer

      To claim something as "sacred" all you need is for two people to agree on it.

      Mankind has always been this way. That is how standards and laws and conventions have been developed.
      From road signs to language, it is just an agreement on how to do things.

      Religion's use of vowing something is sacred is only used for promoting their special interests in something.

      September 4, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  14. well.....

    wow I wish I had that kind of time on my hands.
    I picture it as a bounce house for God.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  15. Mom of Three

    I think an inflatable bouncy chapel would be more useful.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  16. tensai13

    what a load of pretentious garbage.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Religious Sects

      There's nothing left to say, you're right.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  17. Russ

    Who the hell cares! What a waste of internet space........Are inflatable chapels a good idea, really.....someone needs to get a lilfe.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  18. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

    This "creation" and publicity from CNN is living proof that life is not fair and has nothing to do with quality or hard work as an artist.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  19. jma58

    Why not? They have drive in services. Religion is the biggest business on the planet and next is credit card readers on the back of your favorite pew.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • JT

      Hey...tha's a great idea! It can calculate your last year's taxes and make you pay 10% to Jeeezus. I'm going to suggest this to Bank of America. BofA will take 1% for convenience fee.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  20. Erisian

    An inflatable chapel you could put in the trunk of your car and take with you...all I can think of is Ned Flanders.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:20 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.