SAWYERVILLE, Ala.-Scrapped tires have undergone many reincarnations over the years, but nothing so divine as serving as the foundation for a chapel. Such was the calling for about a thousand tires in rural Alabama.
The dedicated hands of three Auburn University architectural students saved these tires from languishing in an illegal dump and converted them to serve a hallowed purpose.
Their fellow students at Auburn's rural architectural studio in western Alabama were designing houses for the poor as their thesis projects last year. But Steve Durden, Ruard Veltman and Tom Tretheway decided to create a structure that could be used by everyone in the rural community.
And unlike residential quarters, a chapel offered the aspiring architects more freedom for design, according to Mr. Veltman.
With no budget for their endeavor, the seniors fashioned their sanctuary with the castaways of society-scrap tires from a nearby dump for the walls, old railroad ties and beams from a demolished house for the supports, and tin sheets from a barn for the vaulted roof shingles.
``We wanted to make something great out of something used or something broken,'' Mr. Durden said.
The only virgin material used was the concrete capping the tire wall to provide support for the roof. The builders also covered the tire wall with stucco.
Their client for the project donated the site on a bluff of an old dairy farm in Sawyerville and the men went to work early last year digging out dirt for the foundation and using the soil to fill the tire cavities.
And it was no easy task. The students spent several months just pounding dirt.
Soil removed for the foundation was packed into the tires and the students used sledgehammers to compact the soil so the tires had the firmness of concrete blocks. This part of the project involved the most sweat, muscle and dedication-it took the three men awhole day just to fill and stack 30 tires, each weighing about 200 pounds.
``We didn't know what we were getting into,'' Mr. Veltman said, thinking back to the ``extremely labor intensive'' project.
``You have to have your heart and soul into it,'' he added.
After months of digging, hauling, hammering, cutting and welding, the pace slowed when Messrs. Veltman and Tretheway cut back their participation to the weekends due to job commitments.
But Mr. Durden stayed at the site and pressed on throughout the hot days of summer with a personal deadline-his Sept. 30 wedding in the chapel.
Yes, the chapel made it for the wedding on time. While not 100-percent finished, ``Yancey'' chapel, named after the property, made a suitable host for a throng of 350 guests.
Upon entering the 1,000-sq.-ft., open-air, subterranean chapel, a visitor walks downward 8 feet below the grade and then looks out the other end of the chapel, past the pulpit, to view the forest and field beyond the bluff.
``You don't realize the bluff is there'' until you're inside the chapel, Mr. Veltman noted.
With such a backdrop for the pulpit, ``the preacher's sermon has to compete with the view,'' Mr. Durden quipped.
The non-denominational Yancey chapel seats 60 people. An adjacent treed area provides an inspirational setting for retreats, youth group activities and picnics.
With pride in their accomplishment and potential benefit to the community, the students were equally excited that their unusual architecture caught the attention of a prestigious design publication, Architectural Record, which planned to do a special report on the project.