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Diversity A congregation’s new home reflects its

23109.00 Word of Life Church Christian Center Birmingham, Alabama Architecture, Interior Design Sustainable Practice

The Word of Life Church is a 26 year-old nondenominational congregation with a somewhat nontraditional style of worship ill-suited to their original building. After quickly outgrowing it, they purchased a 172acre parcel of land on which to realize their vision of a ministry not limited by facility or size restrictions. When GS&P first met with the congregation, which numbers between 2,000 and 3,000 members, Jim Griffo, AIA, and his design team were immediately struck by the ethnic, racial, social and economic diversity of the membership. That diversity became the foundation of the design. At first glance, the 56,000-square-foot structure, cascading down the ridge line of the property, appears as one building. Upon closer inspection it is actually two linked buildings: the worship center and an education building. Different materials, brick patterns and colors combined with a seemingly random placement of windows break down the façade of the two buildings; distinguishing each of them as separate buildings, with unique personalities. These diverse elements purposely reflect the diversity of the people inside the buildings. The larger building houses an assembly area, or worship center, seating 1,500 people. It has a nautilus shell floor plan, delineated by curved walls and an arc where floor coverings transition from carpet to tile. A dark, soaring ceiling hides lights and suppresses sound, all the while helping this vast space seem intimate.

Far Right The children’s game area is enlivened by varying paint colors, carpets and vinyl flooring which bring life to the spaces even on a tight budget. Below The worship space looks and feels like a permanent sanctuary and provides an intimate worship experience throughout the room. But with seating that is half stadium and half flexible seating on the floor, and dual projection screens, it can function as a multipurpose space for fellowship events, dinner theater and other activities. The carpet performs an acoustical function in the worship center, and the tile in the lobby/common area provides ease of maintenance.

The second building is devoted to children’s classes and worship services. It is, however, anything but a typical religious space. Corridors and worship spaces are painted in an array of 18 vibrant colors. Windows of varying sizes have been punched through walls in surprising places, to both reflect the random nature of the exterior windows and to bring more light into interior rooms. The whole effect invites celebration, not just in the children’s areas, but also throughout the building.

Above Left The varying motifs of the exterior reflect the diversity of the congregation. A simple palette of three brick colors and metal panels provides visual interest. Above Right The worship center is wrapped in a common area, or lobby, that is bathed in light from expansive curtain wall windows during the day. The space includes a coffee cafe, bookstore and comfortable seating areas, making it a perfect place for gathering and fellowship before and after services. Below The floor plan for both the buildings and the two levels.

Jim Griffo thinks one of the unique things about the project is that people don’t expect it to be a church. Once they realize it is a church, the reaction often is: “Well that’s pretty cool. Somebody really did something different,” a sentiment that fits comfortably with the congregation’s view of itself. The design/builder of the project, Myrick, Gurosky & Associates, recently reported that the congregation has experienced considerable growth since moving into their new home. Because community outreach is one of the most important parts of their ministry, one could say that the project has clearly been a success. ■

Gresham, Smith and Partners provides design and consulting solutions for the built environment that contribute to the success of national and international clients. For more than 40 years, GS&P has focused on enhancing quality of life and sustainability within communities. GS&P consists of industry-leading professionals practicing architecture and engineering design as well as scientists and highly specialized planning and strategic consultants in Environmental Compliance, Aviation, Corporate and Urban Design, Healthcare, Industrial, Land Planning, Transportation and Water Services. GS&P consistently ranks among the top architecture and engineering firms in the United States. For more information regarding GS&P, visit Aviation Corporate + Urban Design Environmental Compliance Healthcare Industrial Land Planning Transportation Water Services

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