parking is not required (and often actively discouraged). But in newer,
car-based cities, parking becomes a critical factor in selecting a site.
Sometimes existing churches are outdated for their present needs or
the congregation is shrinking, but the church is sitting on valuable land with
unused zoning potential. In this case there may be an opportunity to develop
a mixed-use building with an updated church on the same site.
There is nothing new about this—for example, Calvary Baptist Church on
W 57th Street in Manhattan (a major thoroughfare) redeveloped its site in 1929
with a 16-story hotel constructed directly above a new church. A complication
is that church buildings are rightly cherished by their local communities and are
often landmarked in historic districts, which can produce a paradox in which
a diminished congregation is responsible for a structure it can no longer afford
but cannot alter.
The second category entails newly established congregations that have
the resources to build a new church in the relatively expensive real estate
markets of inner cities (unless this is done at the scale of a storefront church).
Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan is an example. This church was
able to purchase a 100-year-old parking garage in an established neighborhood
that was not an attractive proposition for typical development. More typically,
new congregations build churches on suburban sites that can attract from a
wide catchment area of residential neighborhoods.
Many congregations that want to build a new
church do not want to look like a traditional
church. Part of their motivation for building is
to attract people who might never consider
“going to church.” They want their church to
appear as an ordinary building that is welcoming
and non-threatening, a place that makes itself
easy to enter and take that first step.
The concept is to create a neutral “third
space” that allows the community to gather
beyond the “first space” of home and the
“second space” of work. For example, at
Redeemer Presbyterian Church a big inviting
glazed entrance opens up the lobby directly
to the street. At ChristChurch Presbyterian
(above), a new site in Atlanta, a small-scale
public open space at a busy corner acts as a
welcoming gesture and mediates between the
active street and quiet calm of the sanctuary. A
coffee shop opens off the courtyard.
Even though some new churches may have more modest ambitions than traditional churches—in that they do not attempt to present themselves as major
markers in their neighborhoods—they do need to distinguish themselves architecturally. The application of symbolism on the exterior is a matter for individual
churches, but the use of a cross is in itself a transforming addition to a facade.
Traditional churches present entirely closed exteriors—in keeping with the idea
of acting as welcoming, contemporary spaces, newer designs allow the option of
opening up the sanctuary with direct connections from the inside to the outside.
Congregations, in one respect, are no different from other groups that
commission new buildings. There is a common desire to make the best use
of their real estate investment. As the sanctuary can go underused during
the week, it is frequently seen as a multipurpose hall that can serve gatherings
aside from worship services alone. It can host annual dinners and dances,
meetings and seminars, and theatrical and musical performances. Sometimes
room dividers are introduced to create smaller spaces for classrooms or after-service get-togethers.
To allow this flexibility, flat floors and movable seats have to be used, rather
than raked fixed seating. But building in flexibility comes with its own disadvantages. Movable seats and partitions give the space a temporary feel that can
dilute the meditative experience. In addition, movable seating is less efficient
than pews in terms of providing the greatest density of seating. While pews
can be seen as old-fashioned, in one way they are more adaptable than seats:
by accommodating people of different sizes and making it easier to squeeze in.
Movable seats have to be stackable, which puts limits on their appearance, and the storage of the seats outside the sanctuary consumes a large
floor area. To maximize flexibility, this storage should be directly accessible
from the sanctuary and can therefore occupy valuable floor space on the
main level of the building.
Another significant disadvantage to the flexibility approach is that sight
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The lobby at New York's
Church is welcoming and
ChristChurch Presbyterian, Atlanta
The Redeemer was
able to purchase
for the site of its