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THE FOUR CHURCHES : REINTEGRATING THE SACRED
an interfaith sacred space for religious reconciliation
Thesis Awards : First Place Proposal '05
The competition calls for the redesign and integration of four churches and a YWCA located in downtown Kitchener, Ontario. The five buildings are located at the junction of Weber and Queen Street, are in close proximity to each other and play an integral role as a hub for outreach programs. Unfortunately, existence of these programs and the continued running of these churches are threatened by a decline in annual donations brought about by an aging and declining congregation. The erection of residential and income generating programs was suggested by the client to solve this dilemma. However, although these new programs offer an avenue of financial recovery for these churches, it was felt that further investigation into the reasons a congregation is in decline (besides age) was needed.
As research was accumulated for the design, the reason behind declining congregations that constantly eludes us, started to become evident, namely, the lack of understanding between the believers and their religion. This was particularly true among believers of the younger generation, who, in most cases were dissatisfied with the absolute and rigid interpretations of their religious teachings by their particular ministers.
The design proposed will, therefore, not only limit itself to income generating programs, but also acknowledge this lack of understanding through the reintegration of the sacred back into society. This is accomplished in two ways —through the use of ‘reconciliation facilities’ for the sharing of knowledge and for encouraging individuals to independently investigate their religion’s sacred text; and through educating individuals about their religion’s key role in society, that of serving humanity.
The design will not entertain the notion of increased building density/volume for several reasons. First, the site would suffer from over commercialization, tainting the serene setting integral to all sacred spaces while diminishing the tranquility of the surrounding neighborhood. Second, a study undertaken on the usage of space in the churches and YWCA showed that there was an abundance of building space that was inefficiently used or unutilized. The latter is caused by a declining congregation and poor building design, the result of periodic extensions around its sanctuaries. These issues illustrate that additional building volume would not solve the existing problems but further add to them. Re-usage, extensions and minimum new building program is therefore the most effective approach.
From an overall site perspective, the design concentrates on the re-usage and reorganization of its existing space through the introduction of a green public strip that links the park north of Roy Street to the new proposed park between St Andrews and Zion and eventually towards St Peters and Trinity. The buildings and their relationship to the generous green strip will be essential to the revitalization and rejuvenation of the surrounding neighborhood, materially (income) but also spiritually (church going). These courtyards function as thresholds to the churches and are a means of detaching the individual from their everyday surroundings - a green sanctuary in the downtown core. Such a space can be used for quiet contemplation and reflection as well as accommodate large gatherings, exhibitions and community- based outreach projects.
Due to the difference found in the churches’ belief system, the design proposes that each congregation maintains the integrity of its Sanctuary and spaces for childhood education. Its auxiliary service spaces (i.e. gymnasium, halls etc) will be shared to enable efficient usage of space as well as to foster a sense of cooperation between congregations. This strategy increases the efficiency of managing and coordinating outreach and community, public or private based programs.
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From a programmatic standpoint, the close proximity of the St Peters and Trinity churches allows for the integrated use of the homeless ‘Out of the Cold’ program already in existence in the Trinity Church’s Fellowship Hall. This program is implemented in conjunction with the newly proposed Homeless and Jobless Education facilities that will operate, during weekdays, in the Sunday Class/Bible Study Rooms in St Peters Church. This design proposal concentrates on the St Andrews and Zion churches. It proposes the reprogramming and restructuring of St Andrews Church, a horizontal earth bound extension to the Zion Church and two slender, visually penetrable buildings behind St Andrews Church.
A cost and energy efficient, co-op based, residential tower rests behind St Andrews Church. The tower houses over 91 units or 150+ individuals. At its base are three multi-purpose meeting rooms, a co-op operated convenient store and a co-op café. These spaces have a high potential for added revenue and will contribute to the revitalization of the Weber and Queen St area. Modular in plan and design, the towers consist of concrete structural columns and floors, an interior glass facade and an outer wood louver facade. The mute characteristic of the outer wood facade acts as a backdrop for St Andrews shifting one’s attention from high tower to red bricks. It is a shading device that shades the tower’s units from the summer sun, yet enabling the winter sun to penetrate. The winter gardens assist enables light to penetrate deep spaces while assisting in the building’s ventilation during summer and winter. It’s multi-level, interconnecting spaces are designed to circulate air through natural ventilation.
St Andrews plays a very key role in the design. The building has many circulation problems due to its countless extensions done at various times. Poor circulation is the reason behind the church’s underused spaces. The proposal suggests that the church can become more efficient if its plan - circulation corridors and adjacent rooms are redesigned, renovated and integrated into the proposed green strip. To do this, two transparent corridors inserted between adjacent rooms and the sanctuary will act as the church’s new circulation space. Adjacent rooms are reprogrammed, extended or renovated to accommodate efficient usage of space and program. These strategies would solve several programmatic issues within the building as well as generate environmental strategies that reduce overall heating, cooling and maintenance costs.
Many program changes were made to Zion's plan - the introduction of the chapel below the sanctuary, organizing one sacred space over the other, and the reuse and extension of the church’s existing service wing. This new wing houses a proposed Interfaith Library—a library that has a collection of religious archives and books for the four churches. It will be a place that caters for programs/gatherings aimed at the education of the public and research. A public resource center is located adjacent to this space and will function as a space for resumé/portfolio writing and job search – a program feeding off the St Peters and Trinity sites. Above the Resource Center resides several Outreach Program office spaces which include Family and Children Services, SOLO, Social Planning Council and the Volunteer Activation Center – spaces returned to the programs that were once housed on the grounds of St Andrews. Their facilities are catered towards the reintegration of the jobless and homeless back into society. Beneath the Resource Center is a massive great hall serviced by a fully-equipped kitchen. This leasable space is used for ‘soup kitchen’ outreach programs popular in Kitchener as well as other larger scale activities like banquets, weddings, conferences and the like. The multiplicity of its program is due to its flexible design.
The interplay between service and revenue oriented spaces is key to reintegrating the Sacred back into society. Such a space enables charitable conscious venues to continue functioning in downtown Kitchener, and the rental of space to organizations that could conduct outreach programs, further spreading the church’s charitable arm. Zion is slated to become the new hub for activities among the four churches.
The design proposal incorporates strategies in spatial planning that are true to the nature of a religious life and strives to reintegrate that which is Sacred back into society through awareness, education and service towards humanity. The Four Churches seek to redefine the image of religion in the eyes of society. It creates an environment that would reconcile the variable beliefs of the downtown congregations through their parallel agendas of serving humanity. The question of its relevance and unquestionable truths are put to test. Through environments that foster independent investigation of the teachings of a religion, believers forge a stronger bond between themselves and their faith. However, such an exercise might also unveil the inadequacies of a religion’s inability to resolve the issues of contemporary man if they existed.