Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cross-gate, Ivo Pavlik, Dukovany, Czech Republic, 2010

I'm always interested in landscape interventions, an aspect of site planning that most churches ignore, and I'm utterly fascinated by this cross-gate by Czech architect Ivo Pavlik.  The installation returns a cross to a landscape from which it had been absent, at the end of a path which leads from a cemetery to a lone mature tree in a landscape neighbored by a power installation.

The structure was created by casting the concrete walls between bales of hay, then burning the hay away (ala Zumthor), leaving behind a rough compelling texture.   The cross-shape was gilded to give it more prominence.

Is it a gate, a threshold, a portal, a pavilion? Do we pass through it, or shelter under it? The ambiguity of the space (and that hovering, cantilevered back wall) demands our attention.

via dezeen...I can't find any website for Ivo.  If you have information, let me know.

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Legs for Old Pews

And this is actually from the Culinary Art School in Tijuana California, not a church, though strangely church like, which says something, I think.

But do you see how what is essentially a church pew form is made completely different by the addition of the wire legs?  Nice.  I wonder how hard it would be to do this with real church pews.  Think of a piece of angled stainless steel holding them up instead of just more wood.

A simple pulpit

I really love this simple pulpit by John Doe (really Gr├ęgory Lacoua and S├ębastien Lagrange) for the recent renovation of the Chapel of the Assumption in Paris (via Dezeen).

Friday, December 17, 2010

St. Ann's Church Renovation, William Rawn and Associates

Also inspirational is Rawn's renovation of St. Ann's church at Northeastern University in Chicago:

"...transformation of an existing church into a multi-use performance venue (330 seats), with the capability of adjusting for various events, including choral and orchestra recitals, banquets, lectures, small-cast theater events, and church services. The project sought to maintain St. Ann’s strong architectural character and to facilitate quick change-overs between use by minimizing the time and labor to adapt the space to different uses while reflecting the need to revert the space back to church every Sunday. Four key components to the renovation to accommodating multi-use performances are a new stage platform, a new lighting grid, new adjustable acoustics, and new furniture (loose chairs and tables)"

This provides an excellent model for equipping older churches for more modern use patterns, including updating their visual character:
1. light, UNIFORM side walls (don't clutter them up!)
2. pale glossy floors contrasting with a dark ceiling (a neat resolution of past and present)
3. comfortable seating in a bright modern color.

Monday, December 13, 2010

William Rawl Associates, Glavin Family Chapel, Wellesley MA, 2000

One of my favorite living American architects is Bill Rawn.  His Glavin Family Chapel at Bobson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts uses a simple square, bisected on the diagonal so that it can be arranged  for two very different feelings:  one characterized by solidity and enclosure (facing the solid walls that hide the busy campus center), and one by transparence and openness (facing the two sides that open into a forest landscape). 

The stained glass is subtle and swirling, and only on the top portion of the glazing so as not to interfere with the close connection to the landscape provided by the ground-level windows, whose strongest feature is the delicacy added by a careful arrangements of the mullions.

While this is an elegant space utilizing expensive materials its ideas (triangular seat arrangement looking into a focal corner, transom-level stained glass, interesting mullion arrangements on plain windows) are very accessible.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Devan Sudjic,then architectural critic for the London Observer wrote a  book  several years ago about the "world's most notable architectural triumphs and the masters who commissioned them".  It's subtitled "how the rich and powerful shape the world".   

I suppose it depends what you mean by 'world'...the sum total footprint of all the great buildings Sudjic talks about is less than two square miles.  All that effort, all that ego, for a raggedy poor two blocks.  

But in fact most of the inhabited world is just average people dwelling in huts and houses, on boats and in bungalows, in a self-built shanty or a McMansion.  Their choices shape 99.9% of the built environment, and they don't know from Libeskind.

Similarly, much of what is written about church architecture is targeted at 0.1% of congregations--those with a large membership or a lot of money.  The rich and the powerful.  The other 99.9% think architecture and design isn't for them, and it shows in their timid choices, in tiny steeples perched on low roofs, in unimaginative interiors, in ill-fitting facades that look ashamed to be the house of God.  The house of God!  That's something any building would aspire to.   

But for all the 0.1s splashing out in the pages of magazines and the occasional coffee-table book on religious architecture (and if you have 10mill or so of the Lord's money and you DON'T get an awesome building you're just negligent), it's the 99.9ers that are really shaping the built environment of the sacred.  

The thoughtfulness of your choices matters, matters to people who may never see the buildings of the rich and powerful but will touch the door handles, traverse the aisles, gaze at the baptistery or out the window, repeatedly in your own church.  And those things should say to them that this is the house of God, made and kept with love and care and deliberate, thoughtful choices that are the absolute best we as a congregation can do for this special place.

I hope that most of you that read this blog are in a church that--like mine--falls in the 99.9.  Many of the examples I show are from the 0.1 (for inspiration), but I'm hoping we can change that.  

[Image of Little Cataloochee Baptist Church, c 1889, North Carolina, by Ariel Bravy.  In a small space, you can't go wrong with glossy white paint and the contrast of dark wood against a way this is a reversal of the feeling in Tadao Ando's Church of the Light, and every bit as effective.  And it was an artistic soul that chose the ochre for the benches.]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Moving from Ideas to Reality. On Having Faith.

It has been awhile since I've posted regularly on this blog, and then when I came back to it I found it had acquired some Chinese spam in my absence, and so I took it down temporarily and then I wasn't sure if it mattered thanks to those of you who got in touch telling me that in fact, it did. 

I started the blog to relieve the crowding in the files of ideas I'd kept for our church in the now-ten years since we purchased, by faith, a full 100 acres of Oklahoma prairie land.  It was my pastor father's idea, his vision, and though the church was willing I know there were those who thought buying a hundred acres was mad, the impractical attachment of a plains farmboy-turned preacher to wide open spaces and grand ideas, an overreach that would keep us from ever actually being able to build there. 

When we didn't, there was some grumbling.   There were those who thought we should sell.   At least two well-meant but ultimately ineffective attempts to 'make something happen' with meetings and committees.  A consultation with local architects that stalled out.  And some left, believing that it would never happen, that we'd never get to worship on the site that everyone now referred to with capitals:  The Land.  Our land.  God's land.

Sometimes, I thought so too.  Or at least, that it would be so long my dad wouldn't see it, and maybe I would have moved on by then, myself.  Maybe it was for others past us, and that was okay.  But the flickering doubt and the why not, why not yet became a sort of grief within the congregation, as the corporate faith we'd held for our promised home retreated.  Still fast in individual hearts, mind you, but we didn't speak of it so much now, except in prayer.

That was the winter.  And in April, just after Easter, I sat in a London restaurant with the principals of drdh architects and talked to them about the project for the second time, actually, because we'd met once before but it was still winter, and they sketched on the paper tablecloth and knew what to do.  I think I cried afterwards, like I had the first meeting, because someone finally understood.

A Home for Worship.  A House of God.  Not a megachurch or a metal warehouse or a theatrum electronicum.  A beautiful, simple keeping place for a small congregation that had turned that silly 80/20 rule--that in most congregations only 20% of those gathered are committed, serving, followers of Christ--on its head.

And just a couple of weekends ago, Daniel and David brought us models and drawings of the very place, a place that now seems to me as if it was already formed of the shadows on the prairie and was just waiting for us to wade through the tallgrass to find it.  We met, we the body, on The Land that we love, and the models arrived after the singing had started so that the building blocks were being set out in their careful places as familiar, beloved voices rose around me in ancient hymn of thanksgiving:  "Praise God from whom all blessings flow...praise him all creatures here below..praise him above ye heavenly host...praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost".   The church was built for me then.  Amen.

Friday, May 7, 2010

How to make a Green (literally) Church

Faced with unattractive architecture (aren't we all), cover your church in greenery!  This is Parroquia del Huerto de los Olivos in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Their architecture doesn't look too bad, but nevertheless....choose an evergreen so it doesn't look like a bird's nest in winter, and to avoid damage to the building, grow the vines either on trellising or wires running through eye hooks screwed into the facade.  

Monday, May 3, 2010

Shipping Container Youth Room

But my dream youth space would be like this shipping-container construction by architect Adam Kalkin...everytime I think about youth spaces I return to this.  Vibrant color, central gathering space, function rooms, lots of light, stairs (youth love stairs!).  More here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

More DIY ideas for the Youth Room

Please no more of those over-literal themed youth rooms in the vein of surf shacks or western lodges...a few high-impact design additions are cheaper, last longer, and will serve as a background to the group's own decisions about the space.

Vintage automobile headlamps attached in series to conduit.

Foosball coat hangers--available from Loony Design, but DIY would be more fun...the foosball table was a center of my own youth room growing up.

The simple addition of painted black corner lines to solid features makes everything look like a cartoon! This is from the Luise Hotel in Berlin. 

Make a stack of old school TVs and speakers, as here at the Facebook headquarters, at the entrance to your space.

Have a google for the designs of Odili Donald Odita, whose work fuses modernist and African influences, for color inspiration.   Plan carefully, number, and tape the sections in advance for a massive paint-by-numbers day!

Definitely get the youth involved in these projects...they love group DIY.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wooden Furniture from Brent Comber

The twig pews reminded me of the work of Brent Comber in the Pacific Northwest...his 'Alder Cubes' reverse the orientation of the wood and look a bit more comfortable. His line also includes the order-from-chaos series 'Shattered', an inspirational concept, and 'Solids'.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Pews made of Twigs?

Twig benches and cubes by London designers PINCH. These look a bit uncomfortable...perhaps some pew cushions for the top? But a striking idea, though at £1425 I'd recommend DIY. They used coppiced hazel for the construction; coppicing makes for very straight twigs. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Johnson Chapel at Trinity School, Manhattan, Butler Rogers Baskett Architects, 2009

Inspirational control of light in this chapel found at archidose...

To prevent the intrusion of mechanical systems into the sleek minimalism of the chapel (no grills or vents are in evidence), the bed of rock in which the cross is placed covers the ventilation system where air is introduced into the room, and the lowered ceiling plane of the light well hides the returns as well as providing the beams that rake the light diagonally along the wall.

Friday, March 26, 2010

3-D Acoustic Wallpaper from Recycled Paper

Mio also offers an affordable and stylist acoustical solution:  a three-dimensional recycled paper wall-covering that can be installed temporarily simply with double-stick tape or permanently with wallpaper paste.  Modularity allows for custom configurations:  $34 per 13 inch by 12 inch panel.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Modular Cardboard Partitions

As more churches meet in temporary locations, reconfigure spaces designed for other functions, or simply choose designs with maximum flexibility, next-generation products for partitioning spaces are required...forget the clunky folding walls lately seen in the fellowship hall. 

"Made from recycled, double-wall cardboard, Nomad is a modular architectural system that can be assembled into free-standing, sculptural screens, temporary partitions, rooms or even displays without hardware, tools or damage to existing structures. Available in nine colors, Nomad can be arranged into open or closed configurations; creating private environments or light and airy dividers. The Nomad system can be configured to create entry-ways and corners, easily adjusting to any indoor space. "

Designed by Jaime Salm and Roger Allen and sold through Mio at $56 for one 24 module set, which creates a 4.5 ft x 4.5ft section with open configuration ir a 3 ft x 4.5 ft section with closed configuration.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Foldable Cardboard Furniture from Foldschool

Foldschool "is a collection of free cardboard furniture for kids, handmade by you. The downloadable patterns can be printed out with any printer." 

Follow the instructions (definitely try the sample first to learn the techniques); and the pieces are surprisingly stable and chic.  May not last forever forever but if recycled cardboard (4 mm single layer) is used the price is definitely right.  We've been renovating the nurseries at my own church and these are on my list for the next work day...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sculptural Lighting by Josh Jakus

Well-designed lighting can be incredibly expensive...designer Josh Jakus simply provides a curly recycled plastic housing for a standard compact fluourescent bulb for a sculptural accent fixture.  Available for $35 (small) and $45 (large) at Fuz.  Very nice for a lobby or gathering space.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ukrainian Wooden Churches

I love vernacular church buildings that speak the local, two of the wooden churches of the Ukraine.  What does it say about modern American church architecture that most buildings speak the language of the shopping mall?

"The wooden churches in the Carpathians have a building tradition which is over 1000 years old and which extends into our own time. On the territory of Ukraine alone there are over 1,800 properties which in their diversity and typology reflect the history of the different ethnic groups who live there. "

If you want to build your own, the book of Ukranian Wooden Churches is online complete with joinery diagrams.  

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