Posted in projects on May 1, 2017 4:08 pm EDT

New Orleans Church Renovation Adds Space for Contemplation

A Louisiana architecture firm renovates an historic sanctuary for Saint Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, placing a new columbarium garden outside its doors.

Saint Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, New Orleans, La. Images courtesy of Tim Hursley.











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TAGS: gathering space, historic renovation, sustainability, worship space,


By Church Designer Staff

The Saint Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Orleans hired Lee Ledbetter & Associates (LLA) to undertake renovations to most of the church’s ground floor level, excluding the main sanctuary. The early morning worshippers and the weekly college service had outgrown the capacity of the existing 75-seat chapel, so the architects prepared a master plan, analyzing existing space that could be re-configured to accommodate a chapel with roughly 70% more seating.

Decisions and project additions

It was decided that the existing chapel could be converted into a library/reading room and that two classroom spaces at the

intersection of Benjamin and State Streets would be an ideal place for the new chapel.

At the opposite corner where the most prominent streets intersect, the architects designed a columbarium, which church members had desired for many years. Of equal importance were the re-design of the fellowship hall and re-location and new design for the library. The team also reconfigured and designed the restrooms and public entrances and arteries that connect the existing sanctuary to the fellowship hall, library, parlors, chapel and business entry.

LLA worked with the church’s building committee and staff through numerous design options inspired by the historicist modernism of the early Cranbrook campus buildings by Eliel Saarinen....

A collaborative process

LLA worked with the church’s building committee and staff through numerous design options inspired by the historicist modernism of the early Cranbrook campus buildings by Eliel Saarinen, a vocabulary that Ledbetter and his team believed appropriate for a project whose existing gothic sanctuary was heavily paneled in oak and punctuated by fine stained glass windows. LLA took design clues from this existing millwork, and used oak paneling and pilasters as well as coffered ceilings to create a common design language

throughout the reconfigured spaces.

The new chapel had limited ceiling height, so LLA designed a low arch based ceiling form, inspired by a local historic chapel, that shaped the space in a way that made it feel sacred. Circuitous hallways were straightened and mechanical systems rerouted to work within the new architectural forms and details.

Honoring passage and new life

The location of the new columbarium garden adjacent to the historic sanctuary was inspired by the relationship of medieval cloisters to gothic cathedrals. The columbarium was designed as a walled garden whose stonework mimics that of the original building. Passing through the entry gates, the visitor encounters a grid of bronze plaques that face the interior stone walls and mark individual memorial niches. The architects designed three bubbling fountains that symbolize the Trinity, while mitigating the sounds of nearby street traffic with splashing water. A hundred-year-old live oak branches over the space like a gothic arch, creating a sanctuary of cool, green shade.

The work was phased to allow the church to fully function during the renovations. LLA worked with the structural engineer and hazardous

materials specialists to remove an old creosote soaked foundation beneath the new chapel space and replace it with concrete. LLA also worked with an arborist and structural engineer to design the columbarium foundation to avoid the roots of two existing mature live oaks. Finally, the architects assisted the building committee with a national search and subsequent selection of a stained-glass artist for the new chapel.




Learn more about the companies in this story:

Lee Ledbetter and Associates



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