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First United Church of Orlando
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

Can an old church building become a modern-day masterpiece?

It was a daunting question posed by leadership of First United Methodist Church of Orlando, an organization with a history dating back to the 1840s. Over the years, the church’s identity had become associated with its sanctuary, which was built in 1982 with a beautiful tower rising 163 feet above its base. The tower culminated in a massive gold-covered cross measuring 12.75 feet high and 5.5 feet wide, and it was so noteworthy in that it is listed as a must-see in the “Tours of Orlando.”

As the sanctuary neared its 50th anniversary, church leadership realized that in order to stay a viable force in downtown Orlando, it had to revamp its physical self to better appeal to the young and young-at-heart. And that, ideally, meant turning the traditional church campus into a more contemporary one, one that fell in step with a more progressive downtown community?

It was a notion architects with CDH Partners didn’t dismiss. The firm has vast experience in master planning with a focus on church design. It also emphasized LEED certification in many of its projects. If anyone could find a way to merge the church’s “old world” charm with modern features, this was the team to do it.

“The decision to design a contemporary structure was a bold move for the church, departing from the traditional structure of the existing worship center,” saidTimothy J. Black, AIA, LEED AP and project architect with CDH Partners. “A contemporary addition best articulated the church’s desire to communicate its relevance both architecturally and contextually with the changing community.”

The first step was for the church to narrow its focus and identify its needs. This resulted in the church’s decision to sell a portion of its downtown property and one building and use the proceeds to update the space that remained to better suit its ministries. Naturally, the tower remained in the hands of the church, and the plan was to restore it and work it into the new campus.

Because the limited land the church would now occupy, it was vital that the space that what remained of the facility be used effectively and that it be energy-efficient.

The CDH team began by creating a master plan for the church that included a new 82,000-square-foot facility, 320-seat contemporary worship center, 125-seat chapel, a parlor and bride’s suite, adult and children’s classrooms, nurseries, a new full-service kitchen for banquet events and other special occasions, and an administrative suite. The entire shell of the 82,000-square-foot building was also designed with the ability to expand space on the third level as the need for more space becomes necessary. Along with the sanctuary, the existing bell tower, grand portico, and the courtyard with a fountain were integrated into the design of the addition.

“This plan also included a presentation to city officials requesting the city move a portion on the street alongside the proposed building for a modest plaza just across the street from the city’s anticipated Performing Arts Center,” Black said. “This unexpected element, combined with the move of the street, would cause one to take notice as they approach the new church.”

Not only did the master plan have to be functional, it had to respect the traditional elements of the church, embracing stained glass windows and the massive tower. Achieving this involved a little designer magic.

“When I got involved, I already knew that I had to create a very clean, simple design using minimal designs and lines, and using a more neutral palate,” said Paula Shetterly, IIDA, LEED AP, associate principal and director of interior design with CDH Partners.

White tone-on-tone and contemporary glass panels give the building a clean, uncomplicated look that blends effortlessly with the traditional character of the older buildings.

Much of the materials used were selected for their energy efficiency and sustainability.

“The building envelope and structure incorporate recycled concrete and recycled steel,” Black said. “The architectural precast exterior was the best exterior for longevity and stewardship for the church’s future. The expansive sun-filled windows serve as a signature feature of the contemporary structure that defines the new ministry center. These low e-glass windows reflect heat energy from the outside, reducing summer cooling cost and reflect heat from the inside reducing cold weather energy needs.”

Interior finishes included bamboo and Marmoleum, a nontoxic flooring material made from natural biodegradable raw materials.

“Marmoleum is well-suited for the children’s area because it is soft to walk on and its antistatic properties repel dust and dirt for easier maintenance and a hygienic environment,” Black added.

Low-VOC paints, sealants and adhesives, urea formaldehyde-free wood composite products, and low-VOC carpets were used throughout the interior.

“The church also implemented a green cleaning program so that the congregation and staff are not exposed to noxious fumes and harmful chemicals found in some cleaning products,” Black said.

With the energy-efficient and sustainable features included – such as responsible urban redevelopment, high performance, low energy and water usage, below grade parking and cool roof technology – the project is being submitted for a prestigious LEED Silver Certification.

The project was completed in fall 2011, and since then First United Methodist Church of Orlando has already begun to see the benefit of putting so much time and attention into the design and materials used to build its facility. The church is reporting a near 40 percent savings in water and 20 percent savings in energy costs. And, last year, the project was awarded a Golden Brick Award of Excellence by the Downtown Orlando Partnership.

CDH Partners, Inc., based in Marietta, Georgia, is an integrated design firm of architects, engineers, and interior designers, all working together to provide building solutions that are improving tomorrow’s built environment, www.CDHPartners.com.










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