DESIGNER COLUMNS & BLOGS / Architecture

Posted in Architecture on March 8, 2016 9:33 am EST

It’s a God Thing. Can You Relate?

A 40+-year veteran of church architecture and master planning shares insight into how projects ultimately work for the larger good of a community, despite sometimes running up against seemingly insurmountable challenges.

"One example of 'a God thing' happened on our firm’s first church project in the 1970s for First Baptist Dallas, one of the largest churches in Dallas and located in the heart of downtown."


 

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TAGS: architectural design, business, collaboration, divine intervention, master planning, worship space,

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By Jerry L. Halcomb, FAIA

Have you ever had things work out in your life or in your architectural practice when planning and designing church facilities that worked out in a particularly timely way -- so that you knew that God had to be in it? For me, that has been one of the things I have seen over and over in my practice of 41 years, and now [in my] four years of consulting with churches and faith-based organizations.

One example of "a God thing” happened on our firm’s first church project in the 1970s for First Baptist Dallas, one of the largest churches in the city located in the heart of downtown.

Actually, when you think about it, God is in everything that happens in your life, especially if you “Trust in the Lord with all you heart, and lean not on you own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3; 5-6). This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible and I always try to acknowledge Him in all areas in my life.

Problems & solutions: FBC Dallas

One example of "a God thing” happened on our firm’s first church project in the 1970s for First Baptist Dallas, one of the largest churches in the city located in the heart of downtown. Our project was to find more usable space in the “totally maxed-out” 1920s, seven-story educational building, as well as remodel and update the building. At the time, the church was growing fast; and that building was in very bad shape, needing [extensive upgrades from a code standpoint]. As an example, the building had open stairs that didn’t serve as “fire stairs,” and the elevator was “open cage” design, requiring a “porter” to operate the elevator.

Find a case study on FBC Dallas with images here: (visit link)

The code issue was not a small item, but could be addressed. The more difficult item was the need for more space in a totally “maxed out” building. Since the church was situated on about seven blocks of buildings, we determined a potential solution to gain space could be to use the “air-rights” over the street between this building and the multi-story parking garage building across the street.

After the firm did its initial studies, we met with the building committee to report our findings and let them know we had good news and bad news. The “good news” was that our solution to use the air-rights over the street would provide an additional 50 feet by 250 feet on every level except the lower floors, to avoid conflict with the street traffic. The “bad news” was that it wouldn’t work because the addition couldn’t be supported structurally by either of the buildings on each side of the street or on the street itself.

Then I heard “the God thing.” The committee told us that what we didn’t know was the City of Dallas had come to the church the previous month to say that the city wanted to relocate some of the streets in the area of our church and wanted to relocate the street on the other side of the building to behind one of the other church buildings -- and that would give the church streets on each side of our education building, plus a large monetary amount. It was a done deal.

Therefore, we now owned the street and could use the air-rights and even build on the lower level to provide a new elevator and entry lobby. As it turned out, we did this and also expanded this 1920 building, not only horizontally but vertically to add a Family Life Center.

A-ha moment

This was a turning point in our practice when we determined that we wanted to specialize in planning and designing church facilities. The only architects I knew were those who said they did a church project once and never again, and the ones that just pulled typical plans out of the drawer and placed it next to the existing building with no thought of “master planning.” I decided that there was a major need for good master planning and design for churches. Now I am pleased to say there are many firms that specialize in church planning and design.

I could recall many “God thing” examples, especially concerning property that wasn’t available over the years but at the exact “right time” the church asked once again and it became available. When those impossible but necessary things become suddenly available, it is easy to see it is a “God thing.”

 

 

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