In 2004, it became apparent that the widespread appeal of a large non-denominational church was growing. With over 12,000 weekly attendees, the church lacked adequate classrooms, and this forced church administrators to consider options for adding space solely for the purpose of spiritual education and children’s ministry.
Two architects, one with knowledge of current K-12 educational design trends and the other with religious design experience, created a three-level, 85,000 square foot educational addition, crafting multiple themes for the varying ages of those served. This “Phase 3″ addition brought the church to a total of 206,000 square feet.
Enhancing Learning Through Design
The design team focused on multiple types of educational spaces to be used in conjunction with one another. Designers felt that by surrounding the larger group spaces (theaters) with break-out spaces (classrooms), this would allow for changes of venue during the typical 90-minute learning and worship sessions. This variety would focus student attention spans and would allow for flexibility in class sizes from one session to another. In the case of this growing church, flexibility was very important - the new addition was sure to attract even more children, but nobody could predict the rate of growth.
The planning, programming and design process was extremely consensus-driven, with the common goal being a reinvention of a larger but more efficient format for the three age groups. The client was pleased with what they had originally, but crossbred their concept with ideas gleaned from other similar churches in the U.S. The resulting larger footprint is capable of internal expansion of capacity.
Designing the Right Environment
On the first level, a tropical “Discovery Island Boardwalk” area welcomes the youngest churchgoers: infants to early elementary aged children. Through the portrayal of surroundings as tropical, the team created a “fantasy” environment suitable for younger aged children. A bright, wide streetscape features palm trees, streetlights, boardwalks and a winding “cobblestone street.” Each classroom sports a different storefront facade animated by awnings and bright colors. Attention to detail has allowed the space to truly transport the user to a different place. By incorporating play and playful imagery, Discovery Island is a place to learn hidden in a place to play!
The lower level, dubbed “The Underground,” features space for the Junior High and High School aged students in an environment characterized by an industrial look. Exposed structure and ductwork, stained concrete floors, high-tech lighting and overhead garage doors express the theme. Comfy couches and funky furniture are scattered throughout, with a central cafe area complete with coffee bar. The surroundings are casual and relaxed, appealing to today’s youth who find this a home during after-school hours as well as prior to and after worship services on the weekends.
The second level of the educational wing is themed “Discovery Island Theater District,” and features two large theaters equipped with professional sound and lighting systems. These spaces support musical presentations as well as dramatic skits. Administrators remark that the spaces provide an opportunity for them to teach using high quality methods, including multi-media, with music and theater, and in other creative ways.
By focusing on age-appropriate materials, colors and themes, the spaces directly appeal to the age of the user and tap into pleasurable experiences elsewhere in life, i.e.: coffee shop visit for Jr. High / High School kids, movies for late elementary students and a tropical paradise for the youngest ones.
A Midwestern church with an expansive complex recently added 85,000 square feet with a third phase addition. This three level improvement supports the high value that the church places on all attendees. The space provides inspiring learning environments used seven days a week. Each level has a distinct atmosphere and objective supporting the vision, purpose, values and strategy unique to this large church.
Walking through the main entrance of the church, you are welcomed by the brightly colored awnings of the registration kiosks, faux water wall and cobblestone path through the Boardwalk. Featured bamboo gates present an appropriate secure setting for nursery and preschool children to experience the best hour of their week. The Boardwalk features whimsical clouds above life-like store fronts; each detail encouraging and attracting children and parents to explore the learning environments. All this is accentuated by lighting features which emulate an afternoon in the sun, no matter what time of day or the weather conditions outside!
The Theater District, located on the second level, includes surf board clad registration kiosks that welcome over 2000 children and hundreds of adults each week for a variety of spiritual growth opportunities. The primary features are two identical theaters along with six additional smaller venues for learning. This area also offers specially designed classrooms for children and adults with special needs.
The teenagers of the church have an exclusive ministry space that is affectionately called The Underground. It was developed to attract middle school, high school and college students from the community. The Underground features a large theater with state-of-the art audio and video equipment which meets the needs of this generation. The theater will hold up to 500 people; an additional 300 can be accommodated in the large gathering space which can be separated by glass garage doors. Extra features include six smaller unique spaces to encourage relationship building and a caged indoor basketball court.
The phase three addition has afforded the church the space and function to meet their rapid growth in attendance. It also assures that each person is able to fully engage in the experience and learning opportunities the programs provide through the ministries of the church.