Posted in projects on June 30, 2017 4:06 am EDT

Urban Beacon

A 1970s office building is transformed into a light-filled gem in the heart of Bellevue, Wash.

In place of the former office building's stucco, atelierjones used a mixture of smooth, slate-colored metal that covers the structure's roof and angular walls. The striations of the panels run in different directions for an added visual dynamic. All images courtesy of atelierjones.











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TAGS: adaptive reuse, architectural design, community connection, led, light, materiality, natural light,


By Rachel Hayes

“We wanted to add depth by casting the light against the very natural texture of the pine, fir and spruce wood of the CLT.” Susan Jones, FAIA, Design Principal, atelierjones, Seattle, WA

Light’s presence or absence is felt by more than one of the human senses, and perhaps more than any other environmental factor, it profoundly affects experience and perception. This is why First Congregational Church, Bellevue (BFCC) made achieving generous light levels a high priority when it relocated from its historic location in downtown Bellevue, Wash., to a 1970s office building six blocks away.

Although the original facility had been home for more than 100 years, it was void of opportunities for natural light to pour in, and it lacked a lighting program suitable for BFCC’s musical program that includes a historic pipe organ, vocal choir and bell choir. Finally, a congregation with aging members required ample light for reading scripture and hymns.

At the same time, there was concern that the stodgy nature of the new facility would move passersby to form an opinion of BFCC as unwelcoming, as opposed to open and affirming.

These needs and the character of the building itself presented challenges to Design Principal Susan Jones, FAIA, founder of atelierjones in Seattle, but also the opportunity to transform an eyesore into a place of light and beauty.

“[The building] was nothing special, just stucco over steel with pancake-flat stories. So the church challenged us to create a space of awe,” Jones says.

A Bright Response

The sense of awe would largely come through the strategic use of electric and natural light, and partnerships between light and other materials. However, the very dimensions of the building needed to be augmented, as well.

In answer, Jones developed a design that cut away the northwest street-facing wall and removed a portion of the top two floors in order to extend what would become the sanctuary out and up. A courtyard and bell tower with signage were also added in the foreground to announce BFCC’s presence and extend a welcome.

The upper wall of the fellowship space is lined with Homasote, a sustainable and soundproof fiberboard.

In place of the stucco, a mixture of smooth, slate-colored metal covers the roof and angular walls. The panels’ striations run in different directions for an added visual dynamic. Near the entry, a floating structure of metal and stained glass extends over the walkway and houses BFCC’s 1967 Casavant pipe organ. A linear LED light system illuminates the pipes for a radiant nighttime display through the multicolored glass, according to Beverley Shimmin, lead lighting designer with Blanca Lighting Design, the Seattle firm Jones invited to join the project team. “It functions as a beacon and draws people in,” Shimmin says.

Through the main glass doors is an atrium flooded with natural light. This large, open space serves as a fellowship hall and auxiliary community meeting space. For nighttime or cloudy day functions, sleek pendant fixtures hang at intervals. The space is meant to have a fresh aesthetic, according to Jones, so in addition to abundant light, the upper wall is lined with Homasote, a sustainable, soundproof fiberboard. Jones inserted different textures and colors between the Homasote, including maple, and felt in blue, green and white. “The contrast with the neutral colors adds a lot of life to that area. It’s extremely lively, light and open,” Jones says.

Under the Homasote, a 10-foot-wide threshold shelters the glass doors of the sanctuary. The threshold compresses the atrium space before you enter the sanctuary, shares Jones. “[The space] becomes quiet and serious and then opens up into this big volume of light.”

Strategic use of natural and electric light reinforce the aesthetic and functional success of the sanctuary.

Light You Can Feel

On the other side of the doors is an ethereal and seemingly vast space—a 5,000 square-foot, 47-foot-high sanctuary made possible by the demolition of the northwest wall and upper floors. Immediately greeting the eye is the chancel wall created with floating 40-foot cross laminated timber (CLT) panels. The CLT panels, suspended from a steel structure, are cut and tapered through CNC modeling and angle out over the sanctuary chancel, washed in indirect light from hidden northern skylights and full-height side windows.

“We wanted to bring in daylight from the sides and top and let it reverberate through the entire space, not isolate it to one area,” says Jones. “And we wanted to add depth by casting the light against the very natural texture of the pine, fir and spruce wood of the CLT.”

The aesthetic and functional success of the sanctuary hinged on lighting. Therefore, early on, Jones created daylight models of the proposed design, but also wanted installed elements that would meet the practical and artistic goals for the space. She was inspired by the work of Paul Thiry at Christ Episcopal Church in Tacoma, Wash., where a large ring was hung from the ceiling to provide lighting for various activities in a still aesthetically pleasing manner.  continued >>