First Christian Church of Little Rock
A historic Little Rock church congregation builds a new home on a wooded hillside property by strategically locating the building and parking to preserve most of the existing forested site. Borrowing from the natural character of the grounds the resulting building provides a warm and welcoming space that can be expanded as the congregation grows.
When First Christian Church of Little Rock decided to relocate and had purchased a hillside wooded property the big question was how to build a church and parking without scraping and flattening the site. The answer was carefully creating a “shelf” for the building and leaving most of the site as natural woods. The congregation wanted a contemporary design that was warm, inviting, and flexible enough to be used for a variety of services, meetings, and events. The solution is a celebration of functional form with the exposed wood structure, carefully programmed spaces, and generous natural light in all the right places. Each decision was vetted by consideration of use, acoustics, energy efficiency, access and cost to find the best outcome.
From the street the church is intentionally partially obscured as visitors approach on the entry drive. As the road proceeds up the hill the building gradually comes into view opening onto the parking lot and building site. The building is oriented with its main corridor running east west and the worship space north south. Large overhangs were used on the east side of the worship space to minimize solar heat gain into the building. Windows on this façade were also strategically located to limit glare while allowing daylight to enter into the space. At night the worship space appears as a lantern to vehicles passing by on the street below.
The 6,600 s.f. building contains the essential functions needed for the church to operate. Included is a 250 seat worship space, a parlor for community gatherings, a kitchen, administrative offices, and two classrooms. A central corridor with south facing clerestory windows connects all of these functions together and allows light deep into the center of the church. The program is arranged so that additional classrooms can be added onto the west end of the church as the community grows. The worship space and narthex utilize a glue-laminated structure that mimics the tree like configuration of the forest outside. This structure is exposed on the inside of the building bringing the scale of these large wood members close to the congregants and creating continuity between the interior spaces and the exterior site. Bringing furniture, stained glass, and other memorabilia from the church’s old location was important to the church members. Interior spaces were designed in a way to accommodate these elements and to seamlessly blend the old and the new. Located prominently on the north side of the sanctuary is the bell tower which provides a contemporary home for the church’s existing 160 year old bell. Like the building itself, a new place to call home for a long established Little Rock resident.