Posted in projects on April 1, 2017 12:27 pm EDT

Transfiguration Through Design

Two Ohio churches merge, raising a new destination, one message and one song for the local community.

The building’s exterior would have to complement the beauty of its natural surroundings. The result is a 33,000-square-foot rustic, yet contemporary construction … dubbed a post-modern barn, with a glass silo slammed up into the middle of it.











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TAGS: architecture, daylighting, design, site selection, sustainability,


By Carolyn Heinze

Most projects, at some point, require a merging of the minds. And some projects are born out of a merging of churches. Such was the case for Branch Hill Church of Christ. In the early 2000s, faced with declining attendance, Branch Hill’s leadership sought to merge with another like-minded church.

"The worship paradigm is moving constantly. They way people worship 50 years ago is certainly different than a lot of the worship environments today, and 15 years from now, it will be different [again]."

—Steve Daniels, Vice President, Church Group, HiFive Development Services Inc., Mason, OH

River Hills Christian Church in Loveland, Ohio, at that time a portable church that met in a conference center three miles away from the Branch Hill campus, was the perfect match, producing a union that took the River Hills name.

The lower level houses the children’s and student ministries, a student café and lounge, and classrooms for children’s programs.

As the church elders had hoped, the merger was a success, and attendance grew. The problem was, the Branch Hill building—where the “new” church was meeting—couldn’t accommodate this growth. “Our first reaction was, ‘Let’s expand on this property,’” recounts Steve Daniels, a former elder at Branch Hill and a trustee at River Hills. The church enlisted an architect to develop a plan to build out the site, and the plans included a new 500-seat auditorium. The church sought out a second opinion, however, this time consulting with HiFive Development Services Inc., a design and construction management firm based in Mason, Ohio, headed up by Mark Davis, AIA, CEO, and Brian Zilch, the firm’s president. Davis argued that given River Hills’ increasing attendance, the church would outgrow a 500-seat sanctuary shortly after it was built. Thus began the search for a suitable site upon which the church could construct a new building that would meet its current and future needs. River Hills settled on a scenic, 26-acre property a mile-and-a-half away from the original Branch Hill campus.

As a full-service design and construction management firm, HiFive assisted River Hills in negotiating the purchase, and worked with the township on a road relocation project that was necessary to accommodate the new facility. This led to the creation of a dam and a spillway, as well as the construction of a man-made lake; in keeping with its scenic setting, the church would overlook the water. Then it was time to get to work on the building design.


“We did a lot of demographic studies of the surrounding area, as all churches do—or should—and found that there was a huge population of children within a five-mile radius of this property,” explains Daniels, who is now vice president of HiFive’s Church Group, having joined the firm a year following the completion of this project. “One of our primary focuses was to build a building that identified children’s ministry as a priority.” The building’s exterior would have to complement the beauty of its natural surroundings. The result is a 33,000-square-foot rustic, yet contemporary, construction—what Davis has dubbed a “post-modern barn,” with a glass “silo” slammed up into the middle of it.

Daniels notes that with the lake already constructed, the church initially considered geothermal heating and air conditioning, but decided against it due to budgetary constraints. The site situation of the building, however, was designed to minimize energy consumption. “The building is oriented on a perfect north-south axis with the majority of glazing on the north elevation. Because of that, the building receives very little direct solar gain, so the cooling load goes down dramatically,” he says. “We’re using the sun to our advantage, not to our disadvantage.”

Inside, visitors are greeted by a 30-foot waterfall that empties into a baptistery. “In all church buildings that discussion always comes down to, ‘Well, do you want the baptistery on the left side or the right side of the stage?’ And Jeff Metzger, our senior pastor, asked, ‘Can we put it in the lobby?’” Daniels relays. During baptisms, this set-up offers families a more private setting without excluding the congregation. “When there is a baptism, the family and friends go out into the lobby area where the baptism takes place, and then we feed it into the auditorium [via video] so that the rest of the congregation can participate. It’s an intimate moment for the family and friends, yet the whole congregation shares in it.”

Primary reds and blues on ceiling elements contrast with the hues of the interior design elements below.

HiFive also contributed to the interior design, assisting the church in selecting the color palette that features warm, earthy tones on the walls, finished concrete floors, and furnishings, set off by primary reds and blues on ceiling elements, reception and café counters, duct work, and the seating in the upper level gathering space.  continued >>