DIVINITY Online Edition
A Divine Blueprint
Drawing on the Past, Builing for the Future
by Elisabeth Stagg

In April of 1970, the same year that Duke Divinity School put off building a new chapel for lack of funds, Susan Pendleton Jones’ mother took her to a bookstore for her 12th birthday.


Photo by Les Todd


 Susan Pendleton Jones celebrates Eucharist at the 78th Closing Convocation, the first worship service in the new Goodson Chapel.

Her gift was to pick out a book—any book—of Susan’s choice. She had outgrown many former favorites: Marguerite Henry’s horse books, the Beverly Cleary series, and Nancy Drew. On her bookshelf at home she had organized a library with her own Dewey Decimal system and checkout cards in pockets taped onto the back of each book.

After half an hour, she arrived at the register with a selection that surprised both her mother and the clerk at the register: a book of house plans.

At home, she spent hours poring over the plans. Mentally she made tours of each design, walking into every room, climbing up and down staircases to explore each level, lost in interiors that leapt from the pages of her book to become three dimensional spaces. She daydreamed about becoming a builder.

These were ordinary homes, not houses of worship. But the latter ultimately captured this alumna’s fascination with the convergence of faith and space. At the 78th Closing Convocation on the morning of April 20, 2005, the Rev. Susan Pendleton Jones D’83 became the first celebrant in the divinity school’s Goodson Chapel, a new worship space that Duke had discussed, but put on hold when she was 12.

“I just love space and how rooms fit together—and the creative ways you can organize spaces and call them ‘home,’” says Jones. “I think I began this interest both out of wanting to find a sense of place and belonging as most teenagers do, and wanting some day to create similar places of belonging.”

Duke Divinity School’s expansion project came back to the fore in the late ’90s as a number of new programs— including the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life, Health & Nursing Ministries, and the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation—stretched facilities to the limit. Office space for faculty and administrators became priorities along with a larger chapel, a refectory for communal dining, and classrooms equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

From planning and design to construction and final punchlists, Jones, who is director of special programs for the divinity school, oversaw myriad details for the school’s new $22 million addition, nestled into the shadow of Duke Chapel on what is arguably the most sensitive site on Duke’s campus.

Whether watching as Duke stone was shaped for the addition’s neo-Gothic façade, visiting the Indiana site where limestone tracery and 12 decorative finials were hand carved, or making one of countless hardhat tours during three years of construction, Jones focused on a dizzying succession of details.

The divinity project benefited from her experiences at Linden Heights United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Md., where she served as senior pastor during a major construction project. At Duke, she envisioned the new space much as she had the blueprints from her birthday many years before. The design for two limestone arches inscribed with Scripture—“Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind” and “If Anyone is in Christ, There is a New Creation”— occurred to her one night as she “walked through” the blueprint for the entrance off the Memorial Garden before falling asleep.

   Kostas Drakakis, project manager for the divinity addition, said he and his colleagues at Harman-Cox Architects in Washington, D.C., are “always appreciative and open to ideas.” But the prospect of adding two arches, each of which required an additional two tons of limestone, was not met with enthusiasm. Eventually, howev er, Jones’ vision prevailed.


Photo by Reed Criswell


 Terry Hall, building coordinator, who has arranged for 78 at HartmanCox office moves during construction of the divinity addition, with Architects in Susan Pendleton Jones, director of special programs.

“At the time, those arches seemed undoable,” says Steven Hess, project manager with SKANSKA, which served as the general contractor. “But those arches really enrich the space. I commend Susan for being persistent.”

Adds architect Drakakis, “She pushed us to do certain things that made a big difference.”

Visualizing the three-level addition was akin to writing a sermon, says Jones. The “text” became the university’s motto of Eruditio et Religio. The library at the east end of the divinity building was the “the bookend for Eruditio,” says Jones. “Goodson Chapel became the opposite pole: Religio, which was appropriate given its placement beside Duke Chapel.”

The 53,000-square-foot addition/renovation created particular challenges for Building Coordinator Terry Hall, who oversaw a total of 78 office moves in just over a year for faculty and staff. The Alumni Memorial Common Room furnishings had to be moved so that space could serve as the Student Lounge during the past academic year.

“Each move has a domino effect on the next,” says Hall, who came to the divinity school with 21 years experience as a moving coordinator. Changing offices and furniture—particularly with the noise and inconvenience of major construction—can be stressful for all involved, adds Hall.

Creating space that enhanced hospitality and community was primary—whether in planning for a new office suite for admissions and student life, a new bookstore adjacent to the refectory and terrace, the placement of restrooms, or designing hallways wide enough to allow for facultystudent conversation without impeding traffic.

A building committee, which included students, worked from a needs assessment conducted at the outset of the project. “We really kept students in mind in creating the new space,” says Jones.

The foundation of Jones’ vision was her own theological formation at Duke. Raised in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church, she chose to attend seminary at Duke in 1980 to “get away from hearing the Bible taught and preached in distorted ways.

“Duke Divinity School was the first place where I felt I had a ‘theological home’ — a place where people spoke a language that I wanted to learn,” she says. “Using that language—the language of Scripture—to help shape the new building is especially meaningful for me.

“I believe that ‘people shape spaces,’ but ‘spaces also shape people’ in the way they are configured and lived in,” says Jones. “As one of the architects said many times, ‘This isn't a project, it's a privilege.’” 


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