Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey
Tradition runs deep at Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church in the affluent Indian Hill suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. The church had its beginnings in 1798, in the first Methodist “classes” held on farms in and around Milford, Ohio. In 1831, a church building was erected using brick from local clay.
Relatively few changes had been made to the building since its creation, except for a tower, which was added in 1890, and minor repairs through the years. In 1975, Armstrong Chapel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it continued to thrive with an active congregation.
By the turn of the century, however, the church’s membership had grown so much that the need for more space became paramount. But, there were two distinctly schools of thought – some members wanted a more contemporary worship style, while other members wanted to keep the church’s traditional feel.
How were they to accommodate both desires yet still merge the congregation?
The church hired architects at Champlin Architecture to help them craft a master plan that met this challenging need.
“Modifying the existing traditional sanctuary was not favored by many in the congregation. And, separating the traditional and contemporary into two venues also posed a challenge, as the church did not want to become two congregations,” said Ben Richards, AIA, LEED, AP.
Architects worked with the congregation to identify its priorities through focus groups and questionnaires. From those meetings, three primary concerns were identified – a contemporary worship option, a more welcoming and functional gathering space, and better opportunities for youth ministry.
“The challenge,” Richards said, “was to design the building in such a way to draw in people of all ages interested in contemporary style worship without alienating the more traditional congregation. The building must also maintain the traditional design.”
Thus, architects designed a 250-seat contemporary worship center. The space would sit somewhat separate from the existing sanctuary, which would continue to hold traditional services – but be connected by a new large and bright gathering area fronted on the street.
“A common gathering space that allows people from both services to assemble speaks to the church’s desire to sustain the community and be a welcoming place for all,” he said.
The gathering space included a café and lounge and conversation area. Both the gathering space and contemporary worship space were designed for flexible use beyond Sundays for meetings and banquets during the year.
The gathering space is an open, two-story atrium that features tall, east-facing windows that creates a warm, sun-drenched space inside.
“Because of its openness, size and orientation, the Atrium organizes pedestrian circulation, allowing clear views of the major spaces in the facility,” Richards said.
Church leadership wanted the new space to be warm and inviting, but it had to also blend in with the traditional sanctuary. Architects designed the space with a warm color palate that complemented the classical colors already in the building. The exterior blended contemporary elements with the traditional Williamsburg Colonial style of the old sanctuary.
The project was completed in October 2010, about 14 months after it was started. The church raves about the outcome on its website: “Armstrong Chapel is an inviting place for people of all ages to worship and serve God. Our refurbished and expanded facility will improve our environment for discipleship, attract new generations of followers of Jesus Christ, and better serve Indian Hill and its surrounding communities. The exterior design of the church is compatible with our current facility, while promoting fresh and expanded ministries to enrich the lives of everyone we touch.”
Champlin Architecture uses a collaborative approach that invites everyone, including designers, clients and consultants, to think, create and realize, www.ThinkChamplin.com.