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Architects' Roundtable Discussion: Ministry Facilities

Architects' Roundtable Discussion: Ministry Facilities

Three architectural firms share insights into trends in church facility architecture and building.

In order to help churches make the most prudent decisions on building and redesign projects, Worship Facilities Magazine called on three of the nation's ministry-related architectural firms to help guide leaders in their efforts. These three firms are Adams Group Architects, Harding Partners and Live Design Group.

Nationally recognized for their participatory approach, Adams Group Architects has been helping with church design since 1987. As part of Adams' philosophy, they treat every client as a partner, so that all key people are continually involved in the design process. Based in Charlotte, N.C., the group's goal is to "energize, assist and guide" clients every step of the way to ensure that the finished product surpasses all expectations.

Harding Partners, located in Chicago, uses an approach that is based on collaboration and intense dialogue with the client. Founded in 1985, they are committed to "quality architectural design that is functional, aesthetically pleasing, and of lasting value." Because of the firm's size and blend of experience, both directors and associates are allowed direct, continuous involvement in each project.

Live Design Group, founded in 1987 in Birmingham, Ala., specializes in "creating environments that build community." The firm uses its "Live Design Process" to fully understand and meet the needs of clients. With the help of the firm's design team, contractors, consultants, and technology, Live Design Group creates 3-D imagery to give clients something tangible to hold on to in terms of facility designs.

Considering the wealth of knowledge that these firms bring to the table with their combined 80 years of experience, it makes the most sense to let their leaders do the talking. Read on to see what they have to say about the upcoming year in church design and the projects they will be focusing on.

Worship Facilities Magazine: What projects do you plan on designing for church clients in 2014?

Graham Adams, AIA, President, Adams Group: The majority of the church projects we are currently designing are either addition or renovation projects on existing campuses. [We are also working with] church plants that have a desired worship size of 300.

In regard to additions, we are seeing churches in need of fellowship, education or recreation space. Usually when we are awarded a project, we re-master plan the site. [This gives us] a clear understanding of where a congregation is currently and the logical path to continue with future phases. Many campuses are plagued with poorly placed buildings. We are trying to work around [this issue] to determine a logical way to knit the campus together [to] improve flow and function.

Paul Harding, President, Harding Partners: Our firm is working with multiple religious organizations to renovate existing non-religious buildings of various types into places of worship. In the current real estate market, it is often easier to get financing for projects that involve purchasing and renovating existing properties. Some properties that, on the surface, appear to be a good fit actually are prohibitively expensive to repurpose due to zoning requirements, building codes, environmental issues, and the physical condition of the building.

Aubrey Garrison, AIA Emeritus, President, Live Design Group: Live Design Group has several church projects that we are currently designing to be constructed in 2014. Community of Faith on the northwest side of Houston, for example, will construct a new worship facility and an addition to their children’s education building to provide additional space proportional to the new seating capacity.

[In addition,] in the Memphis area, we are designing a new worship/commons and children's education facility for The Life Church. The new worship room will have 2,250 seats located on a combination of flat floor, sloping floor and stadium seating.

WFM: Will your designs for these projects be location-specific, or will there be some trends that transcend locale?

Adams: We do not believe plans transcend locale. As a religious facility architectural firm, we understand the nuances of working with ministry teams and congregations. There are emotions and heartfelt desires present when working with church clients that are not present in a standard business. The end user has influence over the design. We support a participatory design process that allows that end user a voice in the design. The functional design and the floor plan flow can be very unique to each church. With a design-specific location, you address the individuality of each congregation.

Harding: There are some fundamentals of church design that transcend locale. Proper sightlines, natural sounding acoustics, and certain functional relationships are consistent regardless of location. However, most of what goes into an inspiring and functional place of worship is site-specific. Basic things such as site access and parking configuration are based on working with the topography to manage storm water and manageable grades. Using daylight to help create an uplifting worship experience is contingent upon the solar orientation of the building.

Garrison: Every [plan] we have designed has been unique for each church. The facility should reflect the personality, style and ministry of the church. If there are any trends, I would offer the following from the projects where we are involved: There is a desire for greater efficiency. More space, more seats for less construction cost and a larger bang for the buck.' Also, there is a desire for even greater flexibility and multi-use of various spaces.

WFM: In your opinion, are churches getting smaller and is the megachurch now a dinosaur?

Adams: One size does not fit all. First and foremost a church should be focused on spiritual growth, not the number of members. The megachurch movement is not dead, and in some instances [it is] still growing. The average church has 200 or fewer members. A church must have specific goals and cannot gauge their success in comparison to a megachurch. Worship styles and comfort levels are subjective, and so are church sizes.

Harding: There are wonderful and vibrant ministries in all sizes. We do see an increase in the number of smaller churches. This is driven by the desire of people to find a congregation that has a common belief in theological teachings, order of worship, or types of ministry. While some of the new, smaller congregations are breaking away from larger worship communities, we do not see the number or growth of megachurches diminishing. Because of the current church lending environment, however, we do see megachurches trending away from one very large worship center to a multi-site ministry model.

Garrison: My personal feeling is that there is a trend away from the term megachurch. The term has the connotation that there is reduced individual connections and intimacy. Small groups have changed that perception and the design of the rooms can increase the intimacy. In many cases large churches are still being developed. You can see from the list of churches we are currently designing, they are still building large worship rooms. Most of them are multi-site churches with a large central home base' church and smaller satellite campuses.

WFM: Speaking of multi-site facilities, what do you think the future holds for these types of buildings?

Adams: We are seeing some trends toward having satellite campuses as a way to reach people in rural areas [or] seniors. [The satellites have also filled] a need created by the high population growth in certain suburban areas that may lack religious options.

Harding: Multi-site facilities will become more common as megachurches mature and continue to grow in size and outreach. For the congregations we have worked with, their older facilities limited growth because of a lack of seating or parking. Once the new larger facility is completed the pent-up demand results in a significant growth in the congregation. Some of our clients have seen a 50% increase in attendance within the first year of completing the new facility. This continued growth inspires the congregation to create a second worship center. Other churches channel the energy and resources of a large and stable congregation into a second church site as a way to expand the reach of their ministry. This is particularly true for urban congregations where limited parking, the lack of transportation, and neighborhood identity make it challenging to gather new members from a broad geographic area.

Garrison: Three of the four churches I [previously mentioned] are multi-site churches. We believe the multi-site concept will continue to grow, certainly within the fast growing churches. It is obvious that satellite campuses allow a church to reach more people in a broader area. In Uganda, the church even desires for the satellite campuses to be the hub' of the community, with continuous activity that supports their members and neighborhood.

WFM: Could you share some words of wisdom for church leaders that are looking to expand in 2014 and beyond?

Adams: People are much more likely to donate when they can visualize the expansion or future addition. From our experience we have found that donations always increase after we have produced interactive supporting graphics that show the congregation the Big Picture.'

In addition, the old saying penny wise pound foolish' is a good rule of thumb. This past year we have dealt with several churches that have put band aids' on several large repairs. These repairs, when added together, could have made a much larger impact if they assessed the overall cost benefits and the real return on the investment. Sometimes what appears to be financially conservative is actually very costly.

Harding: The Bible talks about doing all things in moderation. It is important to balance function, scope, quality, and cost in these projects. In realizing the vision of the church leadership and congregation, it is important to be realistic from the outset. It is wonderful to have a vision for the ministry. Achieving that vision in phases is often an appropriate and necessary approach. This is about worship spaces with fine sightlines, excellent acoustics, and some degree of sustainable design strategies to reduce operating costs. Extremely economical medium and large-sized worship buildings rarely have excellent sightlines and excellent acoustics. Being able to see and hear the spoken word and music ministry is fundamental to a great worship experience. While it is easy to assume that electronic audio/video equipment can overcome a poorly designed sanctuary, the resulting compromises often limit the functionality of the space and [yield] an unsatisfying worship experience.

Garrison: We have always said that the dream' a church may have will always be larger than they can afford. We believe the process should be developed around creating a design that incorporates the dream and allows the construction partner to generate the cost. [With this information] the church can evaluate how to achieve the greatest part of its dream. This can be done through carefully planned phasing of multiple projects or by selecting the most important parts of the dream and saving cost in other areas to afford them.

TAGS: Design
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