Posted in projects on June 15, 2016 10:20 pm EDT

Beauty in Quadruplicate

These 4 award-winning projects address the inherent need for sanctuary -- in tandem with an age when diversity, outreach, and socialization are top priorities for many faith-based organizations.

Left to right, FPC Burbank by Brady Architectural Photography; St. Ignatius Chapel at Georgetown by Alan Karchmer Photography; Emmanuel Episcopal in Athens, Ga., by Houser Walker Architecture; and Residence for Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto by James Dow & Bob Gundu.











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TAGS: architecture, church, community connection, design, exterior, interior, materials, natural light, sustainability,


By Carolyn Heinze

Arguably one of the biggest challenges in contemporary church design is creating spaces that offer visitors a place for quiet contemplation, while at the same time remaining open and inviting to the community outside.


[ IFRAA 2014 Award for Religious Architecture >> Renovation >> Honor ]

^ domusstudio architecture LLP, San Diego, Calif.

+ Photos: Brady Architectural Photography

Built in the 1950s, the First Presbyterian Church of Burbank features many conventional design elements that were popular back then, but didn’t address the needs of its present-day congregation or community. Its stained glass windows, while beautiful, limited the amount of natural light that could penetrate the sanctuary; its dark, dank basement was an uninviting venue in which to hold ministry activities; and a rather abrupt main entrance didn’t promote the kind of spontaneous post-service socializing between congregation members that are—or, for many faith-based organizations, should be—an integral part of church life.

First Presbyterian Church of Burbank, Burbank, Calif.; image by Brady Architectural Photography.

To address these issues, domusstudio’s design called for new windows and skylights, allowing natural light to bounce off the sanctuary walls and ceilings. All of the stained glass windows remain, their colors reflecting off the white palette. Seating was reconfigured on the diagonal, wrapping around the new thrust chancel to create a sense of community; and by placing the chancel off to one side, domusstudio created enough space on the platform to accommodate both the traditional choir as well as the contemporary praise team.

Exterior of First Presbyterian Church of Burbank, Burbank, Calif.; image by Brady Architectural Photography.

Underneath the sanctuary is the basement, which was redesigned as a large youth space featuring an adjoining, lower-level courtyard. The upper courtyard now retreats from the church, allowing natural light to enter the lower portion of the building, as well as providing space where congregants may gather. David Keitel, AIA, principal at domusstudio, explains that prior to the renovation, the church’s main entrance was 10 feet away from the sidewalk, “so when people would exit the church, they would basically leave,” he says. “We purposely moved the front door further into the courtyard to hold people there for social ministries after [services]. It also exposes the basement [where the youth are], bringing the youth and the elderly together all in one spot.” This new design also serves to make the church more visible to passersby.

A small prayer chapel, open to the public, is encased in glass walls, allowing people outside to see in. A new elevator tower that connects to several walkways provides access to all floors of the campus.


[ IFRAA 2014 Award for Religious Architecture >> New Facilities >> Honor ]

^ Dynerman Architects PC, Washington, D.C.

+ Photos: Alan Karchmer Photography

Situated on Georgetown University’s Calcagnini Contemplative Center, a retreat facility that serves the spiritual health of Georgetown’s diverse community, St. Ignatius Chapel was designed to welcome those from all religions. “Chapels are, more often than not, singular rooms [that are] very often without specific religious intent—they are not aligned with any specific religion or sect.

Exterior of St. Ignatius Chapel, Calcagnini Contemplative Center, Georgetown University, Clareke County, Va.; image by Alan Karchmer Photography.

But they are about [providing] a spiritual place where someone can get in touch with their thoughts and, if they’re so inclined, with their God, or the source of comfort that they need,” says Alan Dynerman, FAIA, principal at Dynerman Architects. “So to a degree, that was the intent [of this project].” At St. Ignatius, the religious iconography that does exist in the space—aside from the tabernacle itself—is unattached to the structure.

Interior of St. Ignatius Chapel, Calcagnini Contemplative Center, Georgetown University, Clareke County, Va.; image by Alan Karchmer Photography.

Dynerman’s design is based on an elemental pavilion structure featuring stuccoed masonry walls, one of which is perforated with 8"x8"x1½" rectangular slabs of glass, their seemingly random placement introducing a fluidity to the space. The stained concrete floor, poured in place, combined with exposed cedar board and fir framing, bring a sense of warmth to the room, while the strategic positioning of large windows and skylights make ample use of natural light.

"I wanted a certain amount of serenity to be conveyed, [and] I wanted a simplicity to be expressed in the building," Dynerman relays. "I think what allows it to be simple is the geometry—the forms, the shapes." At the same time, he adds, the tactile quality of the materials and their interaction with the play of natural light prevent the design from being simple to the point of abstraction, or austerity.

Dynerman explains that the materials palette was designed to reflect those used in the farm buildings of the region. "This approach enabled us to embrace the practicality and durability, and by extension, the sustainability historically found in these simple rural structures," he says. The roof assembly incorporates locally made structurally insulated panels with a 50+ R-value, and the unpainted, galvanized roof is rust resistant—requiring minimal maintenance.

Exterior of St. Ignatius Chapel, Calcagnini Contemplative Center, Georgetown University, Clareke County, Va.; image by Alan Karchmer Photography.

The wood was selected for its ability to weather well, with little need for sealants (and those that were used were low VOC). "These rural buildings were sustainable—they were built simply, and they had a minimum need for maintenance. There are a lot of things that are ‘green’ now that are fairly complicated. [I was] reaching back to a kind of regional construction that was sustainable."


[ IFRAA 2014 Award for Religious Architecture >> Renovation >> Award ]

^ Houser Walker Architecture, Atlanta, Ga.

+ Photos: Houser Walker Architecture

Built in the 1890s, this downtown church is much loved among leadership and members for its historic architecture. But church leadership recognized that, in order to continue to meet the congregation’s needs, the site needed a facelift. With guidance from Houser Walker, the church devised a project mission statement to account for the old while welcoming the new: “to adapt and enhance with respect Emmanuel’s historic campus to be more welcoming, functional, intuitive, accessible, comfortable, and uplifting in support of the growing community coming together for worship and fellowship.”

Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Athens, Ga.; image by Houser Walker Architecture.

Houser Walker designed an addition to the existing structure that now houses adequate space for ministries, administration, the church’s flower guild, rector, library, and a conference room. The addition links to the historic building via a newly constructed narthex—a key element in creating a sense of community among members of the congregation. “The church knew that there was something missing—it’s an urban church, so it shared the same problem with a lot of urban churches in that people arrived from all directions, and there wasn’t a common space [for them to gather] either before or after a parish event,” explains Hank Houser, LEED AP, AIA at Houser Walker. “And so after church, people would just disperse in all directions.” Houser Walker’s placement of the new narthex—to the side of the historic structure, rather than in front of it—maintains visibility from the street. The grade was raised five feet east of the narthex to provide a covered and accessible at-grade drop-off and ADA parking. A new chapel, designed to provide a link between the church and the outside community, is positioned at the corner of the narthex.  continued >>