First Congregational Church of Battle Creek
Battle Creek, Michigan
Jim spent two years working on The First Congregational Church at Battle Creek while working as a staff architect and project manager at Centerbrook Architects. Working closely with Jeff Riley and Charles Mueller, Jim brought this project through the construction documents and then proceeded to manage the construction through its completion.
This project was a major renovation of an early-twentieth century domed church and its 1940s, 50s, and 60s additions. It is a downtown church but serves a congregation that largely arrives by car. In addition to solving numerous functional problems, the design addressed two major liturgical concerns: a sense of welcome outside and a sense of community within.
Four, new, canopied entrances reach out on each side of the building to draw people in from existing or newly expanded parking lots. The four entrances each lead to paths inside that converge at a centrally located, circular reception desk and lounge. The building now actively invites people to enter and provides a person to welcome them immediately within their view.
A pre-existing and neglected exterior courtyard, which offered little joy during the winter months, was roofed with glass and made ready for community gatherings and celebrations. A small garden courtyard was maintained to allow the morning sun to fill the sanctuary and to allow the sanctuary's curved wall to be seen from the newly created community gathering space.
The pre-existing arrangement of fixed rows of pews, a chancel positioned as a proscenium stage, and an offending projecting balcony were at odds spatially and liturgically with the round, domed sanctuary. Removing the balcony, reconfiguring the worship space into seating-in-the-round with a combination of fixed and loose seating, mixing the choir in amongst the congregation seating, and providing for a moveable chancel afforded considerable flexibility for varied modes of worship and celebration, and enhanced a sense of communal gathering and singing. Four pieces of liturgical furniture for the chancel were designed to imbue these otherwise inanimate objects with qualities of life.
Renovations to the nursery school celebrated the joy of children with color and honored their scale with classroom doors sized just for them.
Photography © Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing
Copy by Centerbrook Architects