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Watermark Community Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

Omniplan architect Scott Hall remembers the day he met with leadership of Watermark Community Church of Dallas, Texas, about their vision for a church home.

"They brought in one photo," he said. "It was of a family sitting around a fireplace, like a mountain scene. They said, 'If you can capture this comfort, this feeling of warmth and togetherness (as seen in the photo) with this whole project, then that is our measure of success.'"

It was a challenge that Hall calls, "Fantastic."

Since 1999, the church had been meeting in a high school auditorium. The church's warm, welcoming approach caught on quickly, and, soon, church activities were moving into other parts of the high school, and more services were being added just to accommodate its growing membership.

In 2003, the church purchased 13 acres of property with a single, eight-story, 150,000-square-foot office building and great frontage along one of the city's major freeways. The property was conveniently located, but what was most unique is that the property had a large amount of unimproved land, a novelty for an urban area.

"They could start building right away, if they knew what they were going to build," Hall said.

Determining how best to meet the needs of this new and growing church would take careful master planning. And, it would start with one photograph of a family gathered around a fireplace.

The church planned to build the campus in a series of phases, but the first need to be met was a place to house administrative staff. The high school could remain a worship center on weekends, but staff needed a place to work during the week.

The existing office building was constructed in the 70s and was hardly a desirable place for a church. The ceilings were low, and more elevators and exit stairs, as well as upgraded fire system, would be needed in order to bring the building up to code for an assembly building. Church leadership and architects studied options that included tearing down the office tower, but realized that the most cost-effective solution would be to renovate the office space.

Thus, the tower became a starting point for the master plan. The first phase would include a massive renovation of the office tower to make room for administrative offices, classrooms, and storage.

The second phase would involve the construction of a 2,100-seat auditorium with lobby, coffee shop, and community spaces throughout. A sky bridge would connect the new building to the existing tower. The expansion would allow the church to move its worship activities from the high school onto the campus.

The church anticipated additional growth over the years, so architects designed a 3,500-seat worship building as part of the third phase. The second phase worship space would be reworked to house a permanent children's education facility. It would include a 500-seat multipurpose room for meetings, performances, or receptions, as well as a 350-seat chapel for weddings and funerals.

All buildings would be designed around and focused on a 20,000-square-foot town square for community gatherings and social activities.

The master plan met the tangible needs of Watermark Community Church. The next step was to design the campus so that it had the warmth and welcoming feel church leadership wanted to capture.

"The original goal was to have the feel of a mountain lodge, where you're out among nature," Hall said. "A place that's also safe and welcoming with a strong connection to the outside."

One way of achieving this goal was to embrace the unimproved acreage. The church was aware that the highway department would eventually widen the road, meaning the interstate would move closer to the campus.

"So, we designed the campus so that it protected the outdoor spaces from the freeway noise," Hall said.

The buildings were also designed with large windows to take in the views of nature, as well as to offer views inside the church.

"Because the church wants to be very transparent and encourage people to see inside and inquire about it," he said.

Architects also focused on regionally supplied materials or products with significant recycled content. It wasn't the church's goal to seek LEED certification as an environmentally friendly building, but leadership did appreciate the simplicity, sustainability, and low maintenance these products provided. Thus, the buildings were constructed using tilt-wall concrete with steel frames, Tectum ceiling panels, concrete floors, Glu-Lam beams, Low-E glazing, high-efficiency mechanical systems, and optimal Solar shading position.

Architects also used white stone from Texas or Oklahoma, and redwood from California on the exterior.

Over the past decade, Watermark Community Church has enjoyed steady growth and has been blessed with the ability to build out its entire master plan. The only work left is retrofitting the phase two worship building into a children's center.

The campus of Watermark Community Church is a tangible example of what can happen when a church has a definite vision and a willingness to allow architects to use their talents to make that vision a reality.

Since its founding in 1956, OMNIPLAN has been committed to creating engaging, innovative, and enduring architecture for its clients and community. The firm has won 97 design awards, including a Dallas AIA design award for the Watermark Community Church project, www.omniplan.com.

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