Sacred Places Winter 2021 - Page 19

New Union Baptist Church sanctuary ‘ theater ’ stresses versatility for community-based events . Photo : Courtesy of Body-Lawson Associates
Built in 1929 , the small church had become antiquated and was in need of an upgrade to help it more appropriately welcome in a new generation of members . In a multi-phase transformation that included new , ground-up construction , Union Baptist Church ( UBC ) leaders built a state-of-the art sanctuary designed by our firm to accommodate congregation members in an amphitheater-type hall with full stage lights and an upper level , in addition to the original church structure . The design concept then connected the buildings with walkways and paths to make the grounds accessible for all , including those with limited mobility or using wheelchairs .
We and UBC approached the design of the sanctuary similar to that of a theater , with lighting that can be modulated and adapted to different scenes . As with the Senda de Bendicion project , UBC chose to integrate an advanced audiovisual room that is connected to the main sanctuary . A big reason for this was to give the church the ability to create content for social media and help attract members , which in light of the Covid-19 pandemic has become an increasingly urgent need for churches .
The result is a versatile church campus , featuring a congregation hall that can be used not only for services but also for meetings , or potentially events or concerts held by outside groups . In the future , UBC can rent out this space if needed to create an additional income stream .
An important feature of UBC ’ s new sanctuary is the lobby , which is large and open and was designed with events and meetings in mind . The next phase of the project will include a family life center , complete with classrooms and reading rooms , as well as a bookstore and potential café . With these additions , UBC has created the infrastructure necessary to be able to adapt to future community needs and attract the next generation of members – Millennials and Gen Z congregants – for whom technology and community is undoubtedly more important than in generations past .
In the words of a Millennial herself , Faith It reporter Sam Eaton speaks plainly and directly about why “ it isn ’ t a big deal ” for most young people to leave the church behind . She also offers a solution , one of several : “ Find ways to connect with neighbors within the community .” Developing a mixed-use campus or retrofitting existing facilities into more versatile spaces give churches the means to do just that . As we design more flexibility into our churches , they will be better suited to adapt to the future needs of learning , communication , technologies , and beliefs of our fast-paced world .
The author is a Nigerian-born , architect , educator , and artist based in New York City . He founded Body Lawson Associates Architects and Planners ( blarch . com ), an acclaimed architecture , interiors , and urban design practice operating in the US and globally , in 1993 . He is an active member of the American Institute of Architects and the National Organization of Minority Architects .