Sight Magazine – Church Architecture: Designing Churches Is A Call For Some Architects


Steve Upham did not want to enter the architecture of sacred spaces. While a student at Texas A&M University, one of his professors asked his students to work for a real client, and Upham contacted a friend’s father, who was on the building committee of a local church.

Now, at 63, his relationship to church design has changed: the president of Crosspointe Church Architects in Houston, Upham, has built nearly 300 churches, and every project he takes on, he said , illuminates his faith.

An example of the Turning Point Church design proposed by Crosspointe Church Architects. PHOTO: Courtesy of Crosspointe Church Architects

A church, Upham said, is not just a client: church architects need to think about structures that serve the current congregation – itself often a collection of different groups with their own interests and wishes – and future congregations. .

Upham first assesses what he calls the personality of the church. Who are the faithful and where do they live? What language do they worship in? How do they do baptism and fellowship? Is there a choir? How much of Christian symbolism belongs to the space of worship? What is the mission of the church and what services does it provide?

“My observation is that Christian fellowship performs best on food or drink. It’s not formal, you know. It’s very, very comfortable. And then you are ready to really share your heart with someone. It breaks down barriers. “

Steve Upham, president of Crosspointe Church Architects in Houston.

To answer these questions, Crosspointe leads community conversations called charettes and Upham attends services to see the church in action. The Upham team can also suggest things the church has not considered, such as cafes or daycare spaces, either to generate income or just for group cohesion.

“My observation is that Christian fellowship occurs best over food or drink,” Upham said. “It’s not formal, you know. It’s very, very comfortable. And then you are ready to really share your heart with someone. It breaks down barriers. “

What a church needs to be in the future depends on whether it is in a growing area, wants to do more in an already difficult situation, or is trying to change its mission. The pandemic has radically changed the way many congregations view their worship, possibly paving the way for more flexible seating to allow for distancing into larger, airier worship spaces and greater capacity for streaming services. video.

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While some architects say the COVID-19 pandemic will have little permanent impact on the way they design, rapidly changing styles of worship and increasingly small congregation sizes could. What they know for sure is that their services will be needed.

“People need to build community, both religious communities and fellowship,” said Carter Hord of Hord Architects, founded by his father, Lawrence T Hord, Jr, over 60 years ago. “So we will always need to come together.”

In this sense, Hord considers buildings that last for centuries to be the ultimate sustainable buildings. He is often called upon to add new rooms or entire buildings to revive the life of the congregation. Hord Architects oversaw the construction of a 1,500 square meter one-story “family living center” in a large Catholic church in Memphis, Tennessee, to accommodate administrative spaces, a gym and a group room. of young people.

John Recny, the chief architect of Helbing Lipp Recny Architects in Virginia, both designs new churches and restores old ones, improving some – like his company’s wedding of a WWII chapel and d ‘a later church building in Arlington, Virginia, into a single, bright building – and supporting those that are collapsing or have been completely abandoned.

When a congregation declines, due to lack of funds, neighborhood demographics or the migration of worshipers, Recny said it is of the utmost importance to attempt to restore such structures – even whether that means adapting them to homes, schools or places of worship for other faiths. .

“Many of the churches that were built at the turn of the 20th century were all built almost by hand by immigrants – the first wave of immigrants from Europe. I mean, my parents were Slovaks and they built a Slovak church in their hometown, ”Recny said. “You don’t want to throw this away without really considering the story about it.”

There are also times when buildings that were not originally intended to be places of worship are turned into churches. Crosspointe Church Architects has already converted old retail spaces or failed big box stores into churches.

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Building God’s Way designed the 45,000 square foot children’s ministry center at Emmanuel Faith Community Church in Escondido, California. PHOTO: Courtesy of BGW

Building God’s Way, a Utah-based church architecture firm, transformed an 80,000 square foot Florida office building into the Iglesia Doral Jesus Worship Center. Discovery Christian Church in Mars, Pa. Was once a family entertainment center, and Light of Joy Church in Riverdale, Ga., Was once a Lowe’s home improvement store.

Church architects learn to adapt, both out of respect for the beliefs and established ways of the community they are building for and because the funding does not come from profits but from passing the plaque.

“We have to be good stewards of the money that is entrusted to us and entrusted to the project,” Recny said, even when budgets are plentiful. “Because they come from donations. They come from the sacrifices of the people of the congregation. And so, we are always very budget conscious in our designs.

For these architects too, a church is more than just a building; their projects are their way of giving back to the community.

“Our motto is ‘service through architecture’,” said Hord. “It means service at three different levels – service to our clients, service to the communities in which they exist, and ultimately, service to God. Because we feel that even though we are not pastors, we receive each other. different gifts.

“You are doing it for a higher power, you can use any cliché in your blood, but we are doing it for God,” he said.

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