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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. bitcoin

    hy173pj m5980e3 n7b7vou lc2se2d ly6x6by.

    September 19, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  2. The Original

    CrystalRivers in latter postings are all fakes. Atheists have no creative ideas but only good at mocking and polluting things.
    The people in the article should go to church instead of doing such meaningless things.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Answer

      Your own post shows your jaded idea about atheists.

      We atheists will only mock your stupidity and make you see the truth behind your own hatred.
      For it is truth that you lot – the relicons – are the haters.

      September 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  3. John

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    ,,

    September 1, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • .....

      Garbage ALERT – junk video, click the report abuse link this person is a TROLL

      September 6, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  4. Frogist

    I'd personally like to see it in the round before I can make any judgements on it. I like the idea of juxtaposing something that is supposed to be reminiscent of stone and marble and glass with such modern materials as steel and plastic. And I like that it challenges us to ask what is sacred and how do we define something that way. I am curious what the view from the inside is like.

    September 1, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  5. Rev. Rick

    I guess I don't see the big deal here. We've had "portable" sacred spaces here in the deep South for decades. Down here we called them "tent revivals". The evangelist would setup his tent (portable chapel), preach and win souls for a few day, collect an offering from the congregation to fund his efforts, then move on to the next small town. This guy is way behind the times, only he's calling it art?

    September 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  6. Steve

    Fascinating. I think the space-creation part of this structure is successful, though I can't say I would label it "sacred." Perhaps that's a definition that belongs to the eye of the beholder, but to me an attribute of sacred would be a space that is enduring, not something that is "not meant to be [there] or anywhere forever."

    Also I can't recall a chapel-space that *includes* all religious symbols; universal chapel design usually seeks to be devoid of any. Can this space truly incorporate *every* religious symbol? Which I suppose begs the next question "can any space truly be devoid of all religious symbols?"

    Do people/groups actually worship here? That should probably be the measure of success or not...

    September 1, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  7. Marichuy

    I really can't say : " Nice try! ", because it is not.

    September 1, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  8. False Prophet

    ask the muslims, they know a thing or too about blowing up mosques.

    September 1, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  9. EnergyBeing3

    Sorry, it really takes big organs, flashy robes and a bloody dead corpse nailed to two boards to get me in the spiritual mood. There really is nothing else like it. My inner vampire lust can't get enough of that Christ Blood.

    September 1, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Frank N. Stein

      Don't forget the living-dead zombie dimension to the faith!

      September 1, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Juggling Squirrel-Jesus

      I'm hungry for some Jesus!

      September 1, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • McJesus

      RAMEN!

      September 1, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  10. M in Australia

    Yeah make them all inside balloons and hopefully they fly away AKA go to heaven.

    September 1, 2011 at 4:41 am |
    • Answer

      Replacing the hot air with helium has been suggested in prior posts.

      Now along with your idea of sending them en route to heaven -faster-, we'll just strike a match.
      Voila – instant display. Not too pretty though.

      September 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  11. Jay

    Looks like a piece of junk to me! That thing is hideous

    September 1, 2011 at 4:17 am |
  12. CrystalRiver

    Secular America's spiritual quest today = greed for more stupid, meaningless sensations.
    Go back to the Christian education to be normal again, you self-worshipping, self-serving pervs.

    September 1, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • CrystalRiver

      Because I'm the best thing since sliced-bread (which I invented). Jesus and I are pals, and he asks me for advice since I know everything about everything and everyone. Go ahead, ask me anything, and watch your mind be blown like doing crustal meth!

      September 1, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • McJesus

      Both Jesus and God talk to me. I am blessed. Sometime a guy named Bob butts in. I usually ignore him. He wants me to cut myself and use an icepick on my left eye. He usually goes away when I bang my head on the wall over and over for a few minutes. Me and my-selves are happy to have such close friends. I am never alone, even when I am alone with my-selves.

      September 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Icepick Bob

      Now McJesus, you need to pay closer atention to the voices in your head. Yes, I am Icepick Bob, but I am not a guy. I am a chipmunk in the tree by the outhouse, and since Satan gave me telepathic powers, I have been making people like you get really stabby until you fork over the acorns. Stop holding out!

      The Jesus voice is actually Biffy the Aardvark, and he is a mind control wiz kid. He can goof with the brains of millions! I can only do you at the moment. And the God-in-your-head voice? It's Donny the Limping Goldfish. He can work his mojo on people of all the wacky belief systems, and he gets them to wage wars on each other and all sorts of amazing stuff. Pretty cool for a limping goldfish.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  13. jimtanker

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

    Yes ,fluid change is the halmark of any religion. More like fluid exchange!

    September 1, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  14. HotAirAce

    There is no evidence that hot air is being used, much like there is no evidence of any god(s). But I do like that they used garbage bags – I think they are saying that that is where all religion belongs.

    September 1, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  15. Another Impeccably Superior Analysis FromThrockton Snortsniffle III, Art Critic

    The work displays the finest nuances of feculence, marked by a delightful blend of flatulence and excrement. Notice the flaccid ambiance of a used condom, clearly symbolic of religion's limp and vanished essence. Savor the placement of the tossed-trojan imagery upon the tangly spider-like legs, as if church-goers are flies in the web of a spider which has sodomized then in a politically-correct safe-sex manner.

    Yes, this is a masterpiece! No doubt about it!

    September 1, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • M in Australia

      I love your work 😀

      September 1, 2011 at 4:42 am |
  16. W William bump

    Great idea should work great with all that hot air!!!!

    September 1, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Thomas

      I was wondering when someone would make this comparison. 🙂

      September 1, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  17. CrystalRiver

    Three most popular American religions today = self-dictation, self-affirmation, self-admiration

    September 1, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Adelina Addlebrain

      Self-dictation?!?!

      HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

      September 1, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • CrystalRiver

      I meant self-dictation to be "giving orders or controlling only for self interest."

      September 1, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • CrystalRiver

      I mean self-dictation to mean my all powerful flatulence with which I translate and then post here on the Belief Blog. Thanks beany burrito from Korea!

      September 1, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Know What

      Adelina / Catalina / Madelina / Oopenstyna / Walkendyna / Hoka Loka Poka's next name will be "Madame Mao" (she had a whole bunch of pseudonyms too). Same tune... different lyrics. Dictatorship and tyranny.

      September 1, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • McJesus

      self-flagellation.. with lots and lots of KY Jelly.

      September 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Self-Pythonization

      Pie Iesu domine, Whack!
      dona eis requiem. Whack!

      September 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  18. mickey1313

    I want to pop that bag so bad. If I ever see one of these I will pop it.

    September 1, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  19. CrystalRiver

    Americans are being bored again. Have too much spare time, too much unused land and too much extra money to waste. This type of things blow to pieces in facing any serious issues in life. Americans have no idea on living for a creed seriously since truth does not matter to them anymore. Anything, including religion or spirituality, is made into an amusement in USA. The West has stopped the quest for the truth(unless money involves, but they end up losing money anyway) like the original pagans and everything stops there as well.

    September 1, 2011 at 12:34 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Crystal river. I feel so sorry for you ..your life is so jaded based on your understanding of life. You truly are an example of the horrors of religion...no one wants to even look at god if he attracts such followers.

      September 1, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      EvolvedDNA

      Crystal river. I feel so sorry for you ..your life is so jaded based on your understanding of life. You truly are an example of the horrors of religion...no one wants to even look at god if he attracts such followers.

      -----–
      She is an example of self imposed ignorance

      September 1, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • CrystalRiver

      I make out with ignorance on the weekends, but most of the time CrystalMeth and I party like it's 1880.

      September 1, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  20. Jim

    This is a great idea. It will be more permanent than most marriages in America.

    August 31, 2011 at 9:19 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.