For most people it's not possible to get everything in life one wants. A wise philosophy to follow is to count your blessings and be content with what you have. For 60 years the Salvation Army of downtown Las Vegas, Nevada, has lived this lesson by serving people who outwardly appear to have no blessings to count and nothing to be content withpeople whose present survival and will to live is wholly dependent upon the grace and compassion of others, and on one other very important thinghope.
"Our mission is to preach the gospel and meet human need without discrimination," says Major William S. Raihl, coordinator for all Clark County, Nevada, Salvation Army campuses. This mission is carried out through a host of outreach programs, most of which simply help people get back on the right track, back to a successful and independent life.
One such outreach is the Day Resource Center, a place where men and women can come in out of the heat, take a shower, and pick up their mail. Safe Haven Shelter is another, offering homeless with mental illnesses the benefits of counseling and medication management. Transitional and emergency housing is available for people on their way back to success after a personal or natural catastrophe.
The campus is also a pioneer in vocational training. One example is a culinary school where Salvation Army residents training for outside work in food service operate a campus kitchen and help to feed 1,000 homeless every day. At the end of their training they receive certification through a community college partner.
All other efforts aside, as Raihl said, preaching the gospel is the cornerstone of the Salvation Army, and therefore, meeting the spiritual needs of residents is a top priority. Previously, this essential part of the work was done in an under-ventilated, aluminum-sided chapel known by all as "The Chicken Coop." Needless to say, when a donor specifically asked that her contribution be put toward a new chapel, leaders didn't hesitate to ask Las Vegas-based JVC Architects to design a functional, but inspiring space to offer hope to the seemingly hopeless.
"Are we going to get to go in?" This is the question Salvation Army Chaplain Ron Rogers has answered since construction began on the 5,000-square-foot chapel. His answer to homeless patrons is always "yes."
"This facility is going to help us lead people to Christ. We get to use this beautiful and well-crafted tool to tell people they are important," says Rogers of the chapel that serves 50 to 60 people in nightly chapel services, and is a part of the support system backing the numerous outreaches of the campus.
When approaching the Salvation Army campus, Hope Chapel is not visible, but once on the grounds, one cannot help but be drawn to it. "It is the heart of the campus, much like [Christianity] is to the Salvation Army's mission," says JVC Architects' Roy Burson. "It is intended to focus on the internal needs of the campus."
An angular, brown stucco building, in stark dissimilarity to the surrounding structures, greets the eye, which is then immediately drawn to the spire covered in rusted metal, giving the impression of an aged and long-standing establishment. Draw nearer and the glowing, blue glass cross is visible.
According to Raihl, Hope Chapel's central position and distinctiveness on the campus is not merely a coincidence: "Hope Chapel is centrally located for more than just convenience; it's a statement about the heart and soul of the Army."
To enter the chapel, one must walk through a tunnel entrance crafted by eight-foot stained concrete walls and then through the courtyard, which is described by Burson as a portal to another world. The high walls block the outside world and help to create a private and serene place for spiritual preparation. Contrast is created by plots of green synthetic turf separated by concrete. This is accented by a large tree growing in the center of the courtyard and up through the semi-translucent canopy. The canopy, which fosters privacy, provides shade and sunlight all at once. At the perfect time of day, the sun filters through the material and casts geometric shadows on the concrete walls. Combine these visual splendors and the calming sounds of a nearby water feature with the innate peace of this space, and you have a spiritual destination of sorts.
The chapel itself is a continuation of the courtyard's serenity, but is also an awesome reflection of God's omniscience. High and open ceilings draw eyes heavenward and toward the focal point of the cross. The space is made even more interesting through the use of contrasting colors and textures. A stained concrete floor is interrupted by pavers marking the aisle that leads to the altar. Lightly stained oak pews and ceiling stand out against dark, hybrid stucco walls. The space is modern, but still meaningful to the hurt and lost.
"We chose to keep the elements and furnishings simple, yet functional and complimentary to the chapel," says Raihl. "The cross is the central feature. The entire chapel is designed with that in mind."
Services at Hope Chapel are modern and boast powerful sound and inspiring visual. "The people we minister to have been raised in a technical and visual world, and they won't get the message through traditional linear preaching," says Rogers.
For this reason, much attention was paid to audiovisual elements. Commanding audio is achieved with a 32-channel sound board. Sixty-inch LCD screens sit at the front of the chapel and cantilever for ultimate flexibility. All components are controlled through a central computer, giving Hope Chapel concert-quality services when wanted. "We have rock n' roll church," says Rogers. "We make it funwe have to, we serve church runaways."
The chapel grounds offer opportunities for spiritual growth outside of service times, as well. Between the chapel and courtyard are the library and a sunken individual prayer room. The library serves as a commons area. "It is a comfortable space with book-lined walls and different media where someone can go and relax. It also has small group meeting uses; it's a very flexible space," Rogers says.
The prayer room is within earshot of the courtyard water feature and is one more space someone can choose to go to discover a relationship with God.
Overall, the entire space has an almost minimalist quality. According to Raihl, this concept was chosen to better accommodate the patrons. And he adds, "[We] felt that many of our homeless clients would feel uncomfortable in a stuffy chapel that felt too churchy."
Obstacles Become Opportunities
Although beautiful, the mere dimensions of the building created many challenges. "The roof structure with its different slopes, elevations, and the cross angling away and then back through the walls was a flashing and waterproofing undertaking," says Kevin Owens, project manager for Las Vegas-based Breslin Builders, the construction firm chosen for the project.
The most obvious hurdle though, according to Owens, was the limited space available for the chapela lot 35-feet wide by 100-feet deep.
Ultimately, the chapel is very linear, running north to south on the campus, a design that has greatly aided in security efforts and other management concerns. The long building's entrances can always be viewed from the surrounding apartment complexes, storage building, women's dormitory, emergency lodge, and vocational building.
Many of the design decisions ended up serving dual purposes. For instance, the oak pews and concrete floors were selected for their durability and practicality in cleaning, but also for cost reasons. And, as expected, the greatest hurdles came in the form of finances. Just as a traditional church of 50 or 60 people would, Hope Chapel had a tight budget to work on. Burson and the Breslin team continuously took under consideration the funds of the chapel, not only for construction purposes, but for daily operation once the chapel was complete. As a result, most of the concrete, metal, and stucco work is custom and was done on-site by the construction team to cut down on costs, while green approaches were taken to make the finished facility efficient.
Twelve-inch Arxx insulated concrete walls fight against the Las Vegas heat. Most walls have a heat resistance value (R-Value) of R-19, but these insulated concrete forms (ICFs) come in at R-50. Small or no windows on the east and west sides of Hope Chapel cut down on the amount of sunlight warming the inside. Also, a natural air-cooling and ventilation system recycles air and cuts cooling costs considerably.
An unexpected efficiency feature is the courtyard itself. According to Burson, the synthetic turf, water feature, and canopy all contribute to more than just aesthetics. "Not only do these elements mentally prepare visitors before they enter a sacred space, they also assist in cooling down the brutal desert heat before the air enters the chapel for natural ventilation."
Although a smaller congregation may be overwhelmed when it considers all that Hope Chapel is a part of, the truth is that every effort counts and every church helps, just by opening its doors.
"Like other small churches in America, Hope Chapel is a place of refuge," Burson says. And Raihl continues, "This [type of work] is what will open the heart's door to hear about a loving God."
[ See a picture library of images from Hope Chapel at http://www.worshipfacilities.com/go.php/media_item/swf/hope_chapel2/740/700 ]