Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project: Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, Indianapolis, IN

Architects: Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, Philadelphia, PA; Michael Schade, AIA, LEED AP, principal; Lisa Dustin, AIA, associate and project manager; Sara Patrick, intern architect

Constructor/Construction Manager: Shiel Sexton, Indianapolis, IN

 

 

Awards

Sympathetic Addition

Winner: Atkin Olshin Schade Architects

Flowing Procession

By Annabel Hsin

Saint Paul's Episcopal Church in Indianapolis, IN, has always taken pride in its ability to adapt to changing times. In 1866, the founders of Saint Paul's separated from Christ Church to build a cathedral-like structure in downtown Indianapolis. It prospered for 70 years, but as the congregation dwindled in the late 1940s, the parish decided that the large church no longer served its mission. A new Gothic-style church was built several miles north of the original site in what was then considered the "country." The new location, at the bend of North Meridian Street, was much closer to residential neighborhoods, allowing parish members to walk to church.

As the congregation began to grow again, a parish hall was built behind the church (the two structures were separated by 61st Street) and a large parking lot further north was added. As a result, the whole arrival sequence was reoriented; congregants found themselves entering the church from the rear, behind the altar, instead of through the narthex, depriving them of their processional experience.

The opportunity to remedy the church's circulation problem arose when its pipe organ was no longer serviceable after six decades of use and it was necessary to expand the chancel platform to house a new instrument. In 2006, the parish approached Philadelphia, PA-based Atkin Olshin Schade Architects with the goal of expanding and renovating the church complex, as well as possibly closing off 61st Street to unify the church and parish hall. "The owner thought about closing the street and we thought about how to make it a really wonderful place," says Michael Schade, AIA, principal of Atkin Olshin Schade. "We came up with the idea to build a garth – an elevated garden – with a cloister between the church and parish hall.

"The addition of the garth created a wonderful outdoor gathering space, but also greatly improved circulation between the church buildings," says Schade. "The original level of 61st Street was four or five feet below the first floor levels of the two buildings. So, if you left one building you had to go down to the street, look both ways and go up a few steps to enter the other building. We elevated the street level in the courtyard space to make that connection much easier and more fluid. There's still a slight grade change but it's reduced and very easy to navigate."

In addition to the new outdoor space for the garth and a children's play area, plans were made to include an entrance lobby addition that would connect the cloister, a new bell tower that marks the 180-degree reorientation of the main entrance and a larger chancel area.

The new lobby on the north side of the church provided the opportunity to implement accessibility upgrades. Along with a seating area that overlooks the garth, the lobby houses new accessible restrooms, an elevator and a stair tower to bring the building up to code (additional clergy offices were also built on the second level). "There were a lot of code and accessibility issues that we dealt with throughout," says Schade. "In fact, many churches have a lot of older members and it was a fairly strong design consideration to provide an accessible route from the parking area and throughout all the buildings to get to the church."

The 123-ft.-tall bell tower, complete with four cast-bronze bells supplied by the Cincinnati, OH-based Verdin Company, serves as the new entry to the complex and signifies the church's public presence. The main entrance was built with an ornate carved-limestone surround and ornamental arched wood doors salvaged from the church's original 1940s entry. Slate shingles from the Vermont Structural Slate Company of Fair Haven, VT, were selected to match the existing roof. The sandstone veneer for the additions, supplied by the Briar Hill Stone Company of Glenmont, OH, was cut from the quarry that supplied stone for the original building.

"The Rector had a very strong idea about the bell tower," says Schade. "He very much wanted to have the church announce itself more prominently as one drove on North Meridian Street, which is the main north-south street in Indianapolis. He kept asking, 'How many blocks away can we see the tower from?' We conducted studies to show that we'd see the tower six to eight blocks away and he was satisfied with that."

The north side of the church, which housed the original apse and chancel platform, has been converted into the narthex. The stained-glass windows and ceiling beams in the altar area were salvaged from the 1860s Saint Paul's Church (it was important to the church committee that the new design included these artifacts). "We worked very hard, and we feel very cleverly, to incorporate everything that was in there," says Schade. "We made some very serious structural changes, creating big openings for glass windows on the lower level and providing both a visual and physical connection between the narthex and apse while leaving all the stained glass and ceiling in place."

On the north wall, a new arched window of clear glass floods the narthex with natural light, illuminating the apse's stained glass – fully restored by Fox Studios of Indianapolis – for the first time in 60 years. "That was a change that improved the disposition of those stained glass windows," says Schade. "There were fluorescent light bulbs lighting them when we arrived."

By extending the existing south façade outward and continuing the roofline, the design accommodates a forward-seating choir and the new organ, which was supplied by Casavant Freres of Quebec, Canada. "Previously, their choir had flanked the chancel and faced the center so the worshippers didn't really have a view of the choir," says Lisa Dustin, associate and project manager. "For acoustical reasons, the choir director was very interested in having the choir face outward to the sanctuary. We had many discussions about how that would work and whether it would create a distraction to the worship service. We looked at a lot of different configurations of the chancel and chancel furnishings to arrive at something that everyone was comfortable with and suited the desires of both the choir director and the worship committee of the church."

Additionally, the interior walls and ceiling were modified to improve acoustics. The existing walls consisted of plaster furred out over concrete blocks, leaving empty space for sound to escape. To improve this, the plaster walls were adhered directly onto the concrete blocks to create a much more rigid diaphragm. The walls surrounding the chancel platform were also angled slightly to direct sound into the long sanctuary.

In an effort to make the interior indistinguishable from the new additions, elements such as trusses and corbels were fabricated to match originals. A circular stained-glass window that was salvaged from the south façade was reinstalled above the organ and complemented by new stained-glass windows by Philadelphia, PA-based Willett Hauser Architectural Glass.

"The interior finishes were a little underwhelming," says Dustin. "As we planned the finishes – the flooring of the new chancel for example – we picked various marbles that were more multi-colored and interesting, and we replaced all of the existing flooring in the sanctuary. Unlike many churches, because of acoustical considerations, the chancel addition was not separated from the sanctuary by a change in the roof line or building form. When we painted the ceiling of the chancel, we did make it more distinct by developing a polychrome paint scheme."

For budgeting reasons, the project was constructed in phases, and a future addition to the parish hall will complete the complex. "The space they are currently using is almost like a high school cafeteria – flat ceiling, rectangular space – that can accommodate most of the congregants, but it's a very uninspiring space," says Schade. "The proposed parish hall addition is a much larger room with a high cathedral ceiling and lots of natural light. It's essentially a freestanding multi-purpose room for parish hall functions."

Completed in January of 2008, the Palladio Award-winning project has successfully restored the ceremonious processional experience for Saint Paul's congregation, and provided modern amenities and upgrades. "As members enter through the narthex there is a level of comfort provided by accessible doors, restrooms and lots of daylight," says Schade. "They now enter the church from what was the rear, which was what they wanted to do. It's re-established as it was meant to be and I think people are uplifted by it."

 

 

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