St. Philip Neri Oratory


An Oratory for Chicago returns the typological "temple" to the center of the city. The Oratory sits at the center of "The Loop", Chicago's downtown district demarcated by the Chicago River to the north and west and Grant Park to the east. It is located on Block 37, the last open block in the Loop until 2006. To the east along State St. is the retail and commercial district, to the north along Randolph St. is the Theater District, to the west is Daley Plaza and the governmental and financial district.

It is precisely the location and the mission of the Oratory that work together as mediator between the sacred realm and the secular realm at this site. The Oratorians engage people on the street today as they did in St. Philip's time, and this building engages the public as the only religious entity on a scale large enough to mediate between the different functional city zones and architecturally bring spiritual balance back to the city. The Chicago Oratory brings together all people in the public square in the pursuit of Beauty and Wisdom. This pursuit is aided by classical hierarchy, scale, precedent and ornament which establish the design and give it character.

The Oratory church is oriented to the east and is preceded by a Narthex and Entry Court. The church seats approximately 1900 persons, is 55 feet wide, 220 feet deep, and 100 feet high on the interior. By way of comparison, the church would fit entirely inside of St. Peter's in the Vatican.

The principal room of the Oratory is the Oratorium Parvum, or Little Oratory, which sits above the Entry Court and mediates between the public plaza to the west and the church to the east. It is the jewel of the design and the center of life for the Oratorians. Shops, in the tradition of the Oratory, face the street on two sides, a subway entrance is included, the Oratory Music School and Concert Hall occupy the north block of the complex, and a residential/commercial building designed to support local businesses and citizens sits on the northeast of the block.

The entire block is 400 feet by 400 feet for a total ground floor of 147,000 square feet not including the Courtyard or public ways. With the other seven stories, the total square footage for this project reaches roughly 600,000 square feet. Proportionally this is far less than most neighboring blocks and only begins to signify the needed balance between the secular and sacred in the city.