Monday, March 31, 2008

Electronic Architecture: Immersive Worship Projections at Irving Bible Church

I've never liked the after-thought, aren't-we-modern-now additions of gargantuan projection screens to sanctuaries.

Perhaps they're effective...perhaps.
That's more open to debate than churches are willing to admit.
But they're just plain ugly.
The two giant squares dominate all other features in the room.
And most of us get quite enough face-time with a flickering screen already, thank you.

So I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the approach of Irving Bible Church near Dallas, Texas, where the screens are merely a part of an 'immersive' electronic projection system that forms an aesthetically pleasing whole across the entire front of the sanctuary. Rather than 2-D boxes that flatten the space, the illusory architecture of the projections extends and enlarges it, drawing the eye into the center in classic perspectival tradition that hasn't changed since the Renaissance.

Interesting, then, that they have chosen very traditional architectural motifs for their projections. It's an inexpensive way to glimpse the grand, soaring effects of the great cathedrals, whose craftmanship is no longer accessible or economical for most congregations. And an expression of how much these ancient forms still resonate, how much they 'feel' like church.

For those of you blessed with Gothic or Gothick or Medieval or Victorian buildings already, imagine this sort of effect overlaying the existing

Photos by Paul. Story at Religious Product News.
UPDATE: This is the work of Camron Ware,

Chapel of Reconciliation, Berlin, 2000

By Berlin architects Rudolf Reitermann and Peter Sassenroth, located in the former 'no-man's land' between East and West Germany.

Uniquely, it is a literal 'reconciliation', being constructed of load-bearing rammed earth walls (60 cm thick) which contains the remains of the previous church on the site, demolished by the East German goverment in 1985. Hard to be more 'genius-of-the-place' than that.

From a site on the history of the chapel:

"An open-work structure extends over the solid clay centre, surrounding it as a covered walk with a view to the environment. This space forms a transition and a threshold between the outside ambiance and the religious interior. The external framework, including the roof, is constructed from wood - also a natural and ecological material. The wooden columns, staves and beams form a light translucent cover, contrasting to the massive clay walls of the interior. From the outside the chapel looks as if framed with fixed vertical blinds, that cast picturesque shadows in the intermediate space. "

Like Shigeru Ban's paper church, the Chapel of Reconciliation features an elliptical central gathering space encircled by a hallway for circulation, and uses repetitive columns to provide a feeling of rhythmic, infinite peace.

The repetition of form to create a restful feeling should be used more often in church design.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Great Design from Cheap Materials - 4

Hackenbroich Architekten used 1280 suspended ribbons of various lengths to create an exhibition stand for a social networking site.
via dezeen.

An interesting way to re-shape an existing space, and a good way to hide an ugly ceiling...length of ribbons, height from the floor, color and material could all be varied.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shigeru Ban's Paper Church

Shigeru Ban's paper church.

"This community center was built by church volunteers whose house of worship was destroyed by the Kobe earthquake in 1995. Materials were donated by a number of companies, and construction was completed in only five weeks by the 160 volunteers. The plan(10 x 15m) is enclosed within a skin of corrugated, polycarbonate sheeting. Within this, 58 paper tubes (325mm in diameter, 14.8mm thick, and 5m high), were placed in an elliptical pattern. The eclipse is based on those in Bernini's church designs, and the space between the eclipse and the outer edge of rectangular-shaped site formed a corridor and provided lateral support. At the entrance to the eclipse, the spacing of the paper tubes was widened, and the facade fully glazed to form a continuous, unified space between the interior and exterior."

So beautiful I could cry, and out of paper. More innovation in those simple tubes than in all the churches below.

On Elder-Friendly Design

I was talking with a friend this week, who had spent some time serving in an inner-city church. Once the largest, most vibrant church in the community, changing demographics had left them with a large property that a committed but increasingly smaller group of elder church members struggled to maintain. I knew it, I even knew some of them (my great-uncle was a long-time member) and sympathized. But I didn't really understand.

What I learned as he shared his experiences was how hurt these dear people felt at their near total marginalization by the modern (American) church. Their experience, their wisdom, wasn't wanted. Their preferences, for music or service style meant nothing. Everyone wanted the twenties and thirties. Noone wanted them. They had a siege mentality, huddling together against the forces of rejection in the place that, of all places, they should have been most welcome. All the happening churches in town would rather have a 25 year old with a guitar and a smile than someone that had served and loved and grown in grace for half a century.

I was always uncomfortable with the trendy, self-consciously hip approaches prevalent in 'emerging' churches. But now I'm just plain angry.

I checked the websites of the supposedly 'innovative' churches below. On only one could I find any reference to a ministry for older adults. Though their sites are heavy with pictures (some obviously stock photos of models, patently not real parishioners), few depicted anyone older than 50. When they did, it was often a minister. Funny that the ministers will soon be too old to attend their own church. I wonder where they'll go then? These churches made special spaces for kids, and youth, and young adults, and a coffeeshop so their fashionable attendees can get through a service without being deprived of their precious java. But no special place, no welcoming provision, for their seniors.

How do you welcome the elders to your church?

Disability requirements for new construction probably mean the basics for accessible loos and walkways are in place. But is the light in the auditorium kept too low for dim eyes to read the Scripture passage? (elders usually still bring their own Bibles. Old-fashioned, that) Are there ushers available to help a slow-moving elder through a sea of young people to the front door and then to their seat? Have you considered how daunting a long hallway, a vast vestibule, is to an elder? Is there hearing-impaired provision, even special seating for elders in the sanctuary? Do you pursue elders as members as much as you do young professionals? Do you seek to integrate your older adults into the life of the church, involve them with the children, honor them by valuing what they value?

What would a space to comfort and delight and minister to senior adults look like?

I don't have the answer. But I know that Jesus didn't have a target demographic, and "they don't like our music" is a total cop-out. Shame on you 'innovative' churches.

Inspiration from Shigeru Ban

Barn-like, cathedral-like, full of light...scaleable to sanctuary size, and an innovative material formed from surplus self-adhesive label materials made of paper and plastic.
the Artek Pavilion by Shigeru Ban via Dezeen.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

America's 7 Most Innovative Churches?

Ministry Today has assembled a list of the seven most innovative church buildings in America, but paradoxically included no photos. Fortunately, Kent Shaffer at has kindly scoured the web for them, photos and captions below (one photo for each church, top to bottom) are via his site.

All of these buildings make me cringe.

Ministry Today acknowledges rather pointedly that quality of design was not the standard. And so perhaps there are other things to learn. But none of the 'innovations' these churches desired to incorporate were inherently at odds with design considerations. For all their supposed focus on things like 'accessibility', 'friendliness' and 'connection', the exteriors are monolithic and imposing, the interiors are cavernous and not human-scaled, the decorations are trite, and the materials and finishes (except for advanced electronics) un-innovative. And that auditorium style hasn't changed since 1973. Back in the 80s there was a song that asked 'Why does the devil have all the good music?". This list makes me ask "Why does the devil have all the good buildings?" Perhaps because the church has decided they don't matter.

Top: Northland A Church Distributed (Longwood, FL)Photo Credits: Mark Beeson, G Jackson Lights, and the church website was credited due to "the facility's remarkably advanced multimedia, which includes an extensive laptop-accessible lighting network and 436 dimmers in the sanctuary alone. Along with more than 20 audio zones to balance sound quality, state-of-the-art digital equipment allows virtually all of the church's 80-plus rooms to connect to A/V systems in multiple international locations. Northland hopes to soon fill the sanctuary walls with dozens of live video feeds from people across the globe joining in to worship. "

Living Water Community Church (Bolingbrook, IL)Photo Credit: Wildesign Group Architects via Flickr.Original photos taken by Aspen Group.
"...appears more like a community center than a traditional church. Because Living Water regularly opens its arms to host community events, its main building was designed with multi-functionality in mind. Flexible walls, stackable seating and finishes that allow for multiple ministries to occur within a single space are found throughout. Did we mention there's a two-story indoor play area and an auditorium specifically designed for kids? "

New Beginnings Christian Center (Portland, OR)Photo Credit: Building God’s Way.
"Located in a predominantly industrial neighborhood, the contemporary-looking church is already becoming the meetings grounds for such a juncture. Besides hosting Chamber of Commerce events and community conferences, New Beginnings also houses an independently operated preschool during the week and regularly leases its commercial kitchen to a catering company."

Victory Christian Center (Tulsa, OK)Photo Credits: Daniels and Daniels Construction and the church website. "...includes a mall-size carousel in the children's facility, a Borders-style bookstore—complete with a kids' zone and adjoining cafe—and an 18- by 60-foot screen behind the stage. The creativity behind Victory's expansion design is on display even in the campus' parking lots, which are connected to two giant bridges (one leading to a Wal-Mart) to assist with traffic flow."

Parkway Christian Church (Surprise, AZ)Photo Credit: CCBG Architects. This one I can bear, design-wise--I especially like the yellow color--except that I might mistake it for an auto-parts store since it appears to have no indications of its sacred purpose. "Designed to contrast with its desert surroundings, Parkway's main building uses dynamic colors, architectural compositions and a "fire, water and rock" theme to prompt discussion from first-time visitors and longtime members alike. The facility, which is the first of 15 separate worship structures planned, also includes symbolically exposed 2-by-4s to add to the incomplete feel"

The Vineyard Church (Urbana, IL)Photo Credit: Aspen Group. awarded because " a single building...continues the fellowship theme through a contemporary-style indoor/outdoor cafe (where a five-star chef prepares lunch daily) and into numerous "hang out" venues. In typical Vineyard style, the church also features high-tech A/V capabilities throughout, including a 32,000-watt sound system and tri-level catwalks. "

Cornerstone Christian Fellowship (Chandler, AZ)Photo Credit: Rowland Companies. "Cornerstone's leaders are upfront about reaching young families disgruntled with church, and their new building's design shows it. For the kids: 20-foot trees with mechanical monkeys, lifelike elephants and a play area resembling a Nickelodeon studio. For the adults, it's state-of-the-art tech toys that present the gospel via cutting-edge media. To fit the church's ongoing rapid growth, sanctuary seating can also expand to fit 2,200. "

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Feature Church - St. Henry's, Turku, Finland

"Inaugurated in 2005, St. Henry’s Ecumenical Art Chapel in Turku is...a very simple building with a shape that reminds you of a fish or a boat. The roof, or actually all of the outside, is made out of copper. The inside of the chapel is made completely out of wood. This 12 meter (40 feet) high ceiling looks much higher than it really is. The natural light changes the balance of light and shadow constantly, thus the inside of the chapel never looks exactly the same."

Architects Matti Sanaksenaho, Pirjo Sanaksenaho and Enrico Garbin

Reverent, contemplative, innovative while still honoring an iconic local form and using locally resonant materials, full of light. Just beautiful.

It would rest my soul just to be in this place, whether a service was going on or not.

And if you doubt that design matters, "the Chapel is second in number of visitors to religious sites in Finland".
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