The Sea Ranch Chapel

James Hubbell’s creative voice reached a defining moment in The Sea Ranch Chapel, a non-denominational prayer and meditation space located at The Sea Ranch, the famed rustic Modernist community 300 miles north of San Francisco. Hubbell was commissioned to build the structure by Robert and Betty Buffam, a San Diego couple who owned a home at The Sea Ranch. Hubbell found inspiration for the Chapel’s design in sketches and drawings made by Kirk Ditzler, the son of friends of the Buffams, who had recently died. His delicate drawings of seashells and wings and feathers became the seed of the artist’s design.

Problem Solving From One Success To The Next

The team of professionals who built the structure were experienced boat builders. Their knowledge of bending timbers along with the tools to accomplish the task made it possible for Hubbell to push his design edges and experiment with architecture in new ways.

To achieve the curving roofline, the builders used the artist’s maquette to establish the outline with stakes and ropes. Then, they built the eaves to that point drawn in space. The interior walls were another challenge. The redwood paneling that curves around the room is polylithic, with many edges and depths. View images of the building process below.

An Experiential Sacred Space

Hubbell designed every aspect of the Chapel, its approach and entrance, its iconic roof, its doors and windows, and the furnishings inside. The resulting structure is a study of contradictions. It’s a heavy form, yet at the same time seems feather light. It contains both darkness and light, intimacy and grandeur, and a richness of materials though it’s made of humble stone and wood and glass. Like the whole world in a grain of sand, you can see all of Hubbell’s ideas in this one small building.

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When it was dedicated in 1985, Hubbell was awarded certificates of achievement from the California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the Pacific Coast Builders Conference. The Chapel made the cover of Progressive Architecture magazine.

The improbability of this unusual design existing at an iconic architectural site like The Sea Ranch makes it worthy of the attention it has received. And surprising too, in that Hubbell did not capitalize on this moment. Despite the acclaim for The Sea Ranch Chapel, he never built another building like it. After this, he chose instead to stay out of the limelight, pursuing passion projects like the Colegio schools and the Pacific Rim Park.


Among the many wonderful people who have contributed to building and maintaining The Sea Ranch Chapel are the following men and women:

Betty and Robert Buffum, Founder of the Sea Ranch Chapel • Jacobs, Coordinating Architect • Thamby Kumaran, Construction Superviso • Bruce Johnson, Sculptor, Artisan, and Master Craftsman • Tim Carpenter, Carpenter • Will Cooper, Carpenter • Tim McMurtry, Carpenter • Brian Smith, Carpenter • Gordon Smith, Craftsman • Dennis Roderick, Stone Mason • Fritz Hagist, Blacksmith • George Wickstead, Landscape Architec • Daniel Cole, Structural Engineer • Frank Berlogar, Geotechnical Soils Engineer • Jeff Dalrymple, Stained Glass Artist • Star DeHaven, Stained Glass Artist • Jerry Erickson, Artist and Craftsman • Duane Gordon, Artist

Read more about The Sea Ranch Chapel here.


ABOVE PHOTOS: The Sea Ranch Chapel by Craig Tooley Ruffimage.com
James Hubbell’s Sea Ranch Chapel. PHOTO: Michael Gerdes
Entrance doors of wood, glass and metal. PHOTO: Michael Gerdes
Interior stained glass. PHOTO: Michael Gerdes
The chapel nestles next to the redwood forest. PHOTO: Michael Gerdes
Chapel entrance doors. PHOTO: Michael Gerdes
White interior roof brightens interiors of wood and glass. PHOTO: Michael Gerdes
Roofline embellishment. PHOTO: Michael Gerdes
James Hubbell with Chapel stained glass entrance doors. PHOTO: Michael Gerdes
Chapel was inspired by artist Kirk Ditzler.
Original wood carved model of Chapel.
Elevation prints PHOTO by Laurel Costa.
Hand renderings of Chapel design. PHOTO by Laurel Costa.
North view of The Sea Ranch Chapel, James Hubbell's color rendering.
Overview of interior layout drawn by James Hubbell.
South view of The Sea Ranch Chapel by James Hubbell.
The Chapel's form takes shape. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Construction workers had experience building boats which allowed for the unusual design. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
James Hubbell and Thamby Kumaran, with Bruce Johnson in background. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Hubbell pictured with construction crew member Thamby Kumaran, and architect Don Jacobs. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
The roofline is reminiscent of a boat or a conquistador's hat. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Bending timber in ways similar to building a boat. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Carpenter Bruce Johnson does finish woodworking on the roof. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
The first roofing layer complete. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Metal sheeting underneath cedar shingles. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
The copper waterproofing layer patina-ed by the salt air. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Metal flashing protects wood elements. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Cedar shingle design. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Chapel patron Betty Buffam. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Chapel patron Robert Buffam. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter
Cedar boards clad the interior of the Chapel on the walls and ceiling. PHOTO: Tim Carpenter

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