Alpha Seventh-Day Adventist Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey
In the eyes of Pastor Gordon Jones, it was God’s will that he and architect Ben Heimsath crossed paths. It just took a few years for the two to meet.
Years before Pastor Gordon moved to Austin to take over the helm of Alpha Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Austin, Texas, Heimsath was invited by leadership to interview about adding a fellowship hall on the back of the sanctuary. Church design was his firm’s specialty, dating back a half century to when his father first established Heimsath Architects in Houston. (The firm moved to Austin in the 1980s.)
“Throughout my career, I’ve represented as many denominations as I can. It’s personally gratifying and stimulating to work so closely with so many different types of ministries,” Heimsath says. “We don’t advocate a signature style. We fully immerse in the congregation and try to get to the essence of what draws a community together. This way, we can create a new plan or better adapt an existing plan so that it is both functional and represents who they are as people of God.”
When Heimsath initially met with leadership about the fellowship hall, the architect gave his honest opinion. He suggested rather than building on to the back of the existing facility, the church should consider giving the existing sanctuary “some love and attention,” particularly on the side that faced the street for more curb appeal.
Church leadership graciously turned down Heimsath’s suggestion and put talks of expansion on hold. Soon after, Pastor Jones joined Alpha and talks of adding the fellowship hall behind the church resumed.
Pastor Jones’ priority was to build community relations through strong ministries. He had misgivings about achieving that goal with a fellowship hall tucked behind the old church building. His concerns were heightened when he saw how much it would cost to build the expansion.
Thus, he encouraged the congregation to shift its focus toward updating the existing building and making the street frontage more inviting to the community. He inspired membership with photos of a downtown Austin church that had undergone a similar transformation. He ultimately sold the congregation on the idea.
One of the deacons pointed out that an architect had made a similar suggestion years before Pastor Jones had come to Alpha. Heimsath, as well as a handful of other firms, was invited back to the church to share their ideas. For his presentation, Heimsath brought slides of some of his other church projects, one of which was a Methodist church in downtown Austin. When Pastor Jones saw the slide, he shouted, “That’s it!” It was the same church the pastor had shown his congregation to persuade them to focus on the church’s façade instead of adding a pricey fellowship hall.
Pastor Jones admits he barely scanned the bids from other firms, because as far as he was concerned, Heimsath “was the person God wanted me to connect with.”
As Heimsath began to work with the church, he learned that Alpha acquired the building years earlier from a church of another denomination. It had never represented what Alpha or the Adventists were. Heimsath proposed a 700-square-foot addition to the sanctuary that would transform the interior as well as the exterior, and renovations to the interior to add more gathering space.
The church also hired a contractor early in the process to help sort through complicated details before the building was constructed and to keep the budget in check during construction.
Heimsath’s plans worked within the original footprint of the 1960s-era building, which included a sanctuary with an attached wing that housed a small lobby, classrooms, administrative offices, and a small fellowship hall. The new plans called for classroom walls near the entry to be torn down to create a larger lobby. The new configuration would also allow the children’s ministry to move into the original church building and free up space for the church’s growing ministry.
The addition was to end of the sanctuary, increasing the size of the stage as well as adding support space. Since full immersion baptisms were an important part of Alpha’s worship, the plans called for the baptismal to be moved from above the stage to just in front of the platform so it was more within the community of the congregation. When baptisms are not being performed, a wooden cover is placed over the baptismal.
The investment was not only in the interior of the building. The outside was also transformed. The addition to the sanctuary allowed architects to change the building’s street presence.
“We stayed with the same quiet modernism. Instead of the ridge going straight, it cants up, it cants up, like a folded plate structure, and it makes the geometry more interesting,” Heimsath says.
This gives the effect that the roofline is reaching skyward. The façade of the addition is stucco and the bricks from the old façade were placed in horizontal bands to blend with the existing building. The stucco wall is parted to insert the vertical windows. That section is made with hardi plank and painted purple to match the church’s logo.
Pastor Jones said the building looked like hands folded in prayer. “It captures the past but also envisions a powerful future,” he says.
The addition is dramatic, considering it is just a 700-square-foot addition to a building nearly 10,000 square feet in total.
“Both in terms of function and image, sprucing up the old place has been a huge transformation with a lot of bang for the buck!” Heimsath adds.
The new Alpha Seventh-Day Adventist Church is currently being dedicated through a series of ministry-focused worship services and will culminate with a grand final ministry fair encouraging membership to get involved in the community.
“That is what Ben Heimsath brings to the table,” Pastor Jones says. “He brings his passion for having churches fulfill their mission.”
Pastor Jones believes as his church strengthens its commitment to the community, it will be repaid through new membership which, in turn, will allow the church to fulfill its desire to build a new fellowship hall. And when that time comes, he says, “I look forward to working with Ben on that.”
Heimsath Architects has maintained a focus on architecture and design that has lasted through the ages, receiving more than 50 design awards and citations throughout its long history. The firm offers exceptional experience with new site development, renovations and additions. The firm’s designs blend innovation with tradition, making them unique, yet contributing to the existing site, its buildings, and its neighborhood, www.heimsath.com.