A church of its time welcomes its community
By Raj Dayal
The design of a Colorado church’s worship center is both permanent and transparent.
The leadership of Southeast Christian Church and School in Parker, CO, desired a worship center that was both permanent and transparent. “The use of two colors of honed concrete block conveys the message of permanence and the large amounts of glass conveys a welcoming transparency to the community,” says Doug Spuler, project designer, RNL.
Southeast had grown so significantly during its first five years on its new site that it was running out of space with three packed services and not enough classroom space. The church’s leaders employed the help of the RNL team to make sure that additions would be completed in a safe and timely manner through several phases.
“The goal was to provide an expanded facility that would accommodate the space needed for ministry balance,” Spuler says. “Additionally, the church leaders wanted to pursue green building principles wherever possible.” As part of a commitment to this request, the design team used fabric ducts in lieu of sheet metal throughout the main lobby/atrium spaces.
The ministry of the church is far-reaching to all age groups and is very participatory “We designed the main atrium with a café and bookstore to act as an anchor to provide real fellowship and connection opportunities,” Spuler says. “The worship center was designed to accommodate a wide range of service styles from acoustic to rock-style worship running more than 110 Db.”
Established architectural palette
The building materials used for the worship center were chosen to provide an attractive, low-maintenance and reasonably low-cost benefit. “As we had completed the prior two buildings in earlier phases, we expanded on an already established architectural palette of materials,” Spuler says. “The block allowed us to create a very consistent and minimal field to produce key accents like the light, buff-colored block at the entry.”
Among the most unique features of the worship center are sculptural elements on the walls on both ends of the stage which are both functional and decorative. “These elements are primarily acoustical diffusions to minimize echo in the room. They are translucent acrylic panels mounted onto a painted wood frame,” Spuler says.
Balance to core ministries
The design team worked with Southeast’s leadership in programming the phase and used demographic projection and historical attendance data to determine the size of the worship center. They decided to include 2,000 theater-style seats without armrests, which allow families to sit more comfortably together. “This number gave the church a substantial seating increase without diminishing the intimate quality experience for its congregation,” Spuler says. “The project provided balance to the rest of the church’s core ministries as we added several large, flexible children’s classrooms and relocated its administrative offices into one location.”
The design of the church is intended as contemporary — a building of its time; it is also meant to be approachable. “The big idea of the design was to use a series of solid masonry volumes to house the primary worship and multipurpose spaces and then to juxtapose them against voids of flowing glass and open spaces,” says Spuler. “It is the combination of solid and voided space that creates a much smaller scale and a more approachable campus.”
The project includes extensive lighting design concepts that are important to how the church is perceived by its surrounding community. “Lighting is used to create mood and to prepare people for a worship experience,” Spuler says. The exterior lighting includes accent up-lighting onto the varied textures of the primary masonry volumes through the use of ground-mounted directional floodlights.
Cornerstone of the church
One of the key lighting design elements used for the facility is on the outside. The 80-foot cross tower that anchors the entry and worship center is illuminated by an effective combination of floodlights. “The design of the cross tower is purposely metaphorical as it uses three main steel support columns representing the trinity and is in fact the cornerstone of the church as it holds up the roof above the entry,” Spuler says.
The roofline of the church is relatively low and fits well into the surrounding community. The first two phases of the project were designed to stay well below the 35-foot zoning limit. For the worship center phase the design team applied for and received an additional height variance to allow the space to be more acoustically conducive.
“The church’s desire to be a resource to the community was one of the key reasons the additional variances were approved,” Spuler says. The leaders of Southeast Christian Church have willingly opened the facility to community functions, graduations, town hall meetings, concerts and other performing arts activities.