A Church House for a Contemporary People of God.
The Architecture and Art of Second Baptist
When a significant architectural work is aborning, the labor is often long. The design of the new facilities for The Second Baptist Church has been a long time coming, but the contract has now been awarded. The dreams of the congregation are coming true. Ken Condray, known among the professionals in Lubbock as the architectís architect, is about to see the fruits of his vision and the monument to his faith rise from the earth and take form in steel and masonry. Sometime around the ides of March, general contractor David Woods will start moving earth in plain view of Spur 329 and Loop 289. Ken and the church want the entire community to watch it happen.
After the bids were in, the final contract amount had to be reduced to meet the budget, but in the final analysis, virtually all of the architectís design was included. The architect negotiated the job into the budget, but on faith, the congregation backed the total project. Ken said "We presented the concept in July of 1995 to the same people we are still working with. Their perseverance has been remarkable."
Ken had told me about the negotiations, and some of the concessions that had to be made, but the design survived the budget axe pretty well intact. As we buckled into Kenís Lincoln on the way to lunch, curiosity could be contained no longer, I had to know if the big one got away again. I blurted out the question "Did your ichthus survive?"
"Oh yes" he replied, "We put the tail back on the fish! We had to give up the copper shingles that we wanted to simulate the scales, though." I cracked back "Well, that would make it a catfish, and thatís not kosher." Everybody laughed. I knew it was going to be an enjoyable lunch.
I asked Ken if I could take a photograph of him at the site before we ate, kind of "The Artist and His Canvas" shot. In this case it would be an architect and a seven acre vacant lot. We pulled onto the shoulder at the overpass of Loop 289 over Spur 327 and walked up to the crest to get the elevation for a good angle shot of the project site. The cold north wind cut right through our lightweight business suits and Ken only posed for a few snapshots.
The building site was in the far background, beyond the access road. I wanted the new Nazarene church in the picture because I was going to ask Ken if he thought his design would clash with the more traditional design of that building.
Back in the warmth of the car, I rolled through the pictures on the screen of the digital camera. "Not bad" I thought as I passed the camera to Pete Velde and Dave Dixon, the others in our lunch party. Pete is the project manager for Condray Design Group, inc. and Dave Dixon is our technical writer, among other things.
At lunch, I asked Condray and Velde the questions I wanted to hear the answers to. Some of the ground we had been over many times before. Our firm was the MPE (mechanical, plumbing, and electrical) consultants for the project and we had met with Ken and Pete every Wednesday afternoon for months during the design.
I remembered what the late legendary Lubbock architect, Atmar Atkinson, used to say about designing churches: "Itís about the only job left where an architect can win a set of dishes." He was commenting on the sorry state into which the design professions had sunk under the burden of codes and criteria imposed on them. Ken had landed a design commission free of most of these constraints. But the really good news was the the mission statement from the client: "The building must be dynamic, imaginative, striking and functional, as well as, warm and welcomingÖ". Words to die for to an architect with the soul of an artist.
I asked Ken how he got the commission that every architect in West Texas coveted.
"Well," he said "the church did interview five or six architects, including one from California. They had a written questionnaire that asked tough questions. I guess they liked our answers. Then we got serious about delivering a good design. Hereís how we did it."
Ken handed me his notes from the presentation of the conceptual design. The concept was presented to the entire congregation back in '95. I read the first paragraph.
The design and layout is arranged to capitalize on the high visibility of the site from Loop 289. The dramatic use and placement of striking forms announce to all of Lubbock the unique qualities which make Second Baptist an extraordinary church (note: the Worship Center, the Grand Hall, the Fellowship Hall and curving wall that runs along the loop edge). At the same time, the design of the Worship Center, the Fellowship Hall and the connecting Grand Hall create a gathering area and main entry space that conveys an intimate/inwardly focused spatial character. This will enhance the sense of togetherness within the church. Thus the design extends outward with an invitation to visitors yet at the same time creates a complex which is a refuge from the outside world, a spiritual retreat for the community of faith to gather and worship.
Heavy stuff! The rest of the notes was mostly nuts and bolts about geometry, circulation, statistics and parking. I was ready to look at the pictures and talk about the shape of the building. There was one shape that you could not mistake for anything else.
The two universally recognized symbols unique to Christianity are the cross and the ichthus. The ichthus is the lesser known of the two, but the sign of the fish is precious to Christian tradition. The apostles were fishermen, the miracles of Jesus included fish, and the secret code of early Christians was the sign of the fish. Upon meeting a stranger, a Christian could surreptitiously scribe an arc in the dirt with his foot and step away. If the stranger were also a Christian, he could superscribe another arc to form the ichthus. The strangers would thus have identified each other as Christians without a word passing between them. Today the ichthus is seen everywhere, from icons on websites to bumper stickers on pickups. The generally understood connotation now is, as it was then, an invitation to fellowship. I asked Ken how this form influenced the design.
"Really, the design began with a sketch of three arcs, a couple of circles, and a few lines. I have that original sketch right here that conceptualized the elements. See, two of the arcs define the ichthuse, of course, and the other defines a long curved wall. That will be a prominent feature when viewed from the access road. Think of it as a wall of separation between the sacred and the profane." Dixon, a cleric among other things, could not resist the temptation. He quipped "Are we talking about a court of the gentiles here?" Naah, I donít think so.
The ichthus is really the centerpiece of this building design. Even an engineer like me can see that. Its prominence as an exterior element of the design shouts to the world: "Here you are welcome in the fellowship of the Lord." As the sign of the fish projects through to the ceiling of the Grand Hall, it whispers to those under its shelter: "You are safely in the fellowship of the Lord."
I asked Ken if he knew whether or not the shape of the ichthuse had been done as a major element in the design of a church building before.
"Our case studies on two or three dozen churches world wide did not turn up one. We toured a lot of churches in Texas with the committee to understand what they liked. It was to find out what they did not like as well so we would not make the same mistake. There was nothing negative about the shape of the ichthuse."
"The ichthus is integrated with the Grand Hall. That is the circulation hub for the entire complex. From it, the wings are angled to funnel the worshippers into the Grand Hall, symbolically as the open arms of the Lord welcoming them. It is the gathering place before the service. It will, no doubt, be used for reception, exhibits, displays, weddings, funerals, performances, visitor center, overflow crowds and other functions. The sound system ties it audibly into the fellowship hall.
Corridors to the classroom wings, the ministering offices and the library, the meeting room and comfort stations, and the choir room radiate out from this hub. The fellowship hall, bride's room, and staff rooms open from it directly. It is to be a warm and friendly place, all under the skylights of the inviting ichthus."
Ken continued "We consulted with an imminent liturgical authority from Houston to make sure we missed no opportunity in using symbolism to enhance the experience of worship. That was mainly for the functional aspects, not so much the ornamentation. Well known sound consultants from Austin and Dallas helped us to create an acoustic atmosphere of participation for the congregational singing. With the exception of these two specialists, the design was an all-Lubbock effort." Dixon, a marketing expert among other things, nodded approval.
"We look forward to the second phase: the Worship Center. It will be awe inspiring. The church plans to have a world class organ. They have been in negotiations for a half-million dollar instrument. The music director has his PhD, and these folks are serious about music. This is a participating congregation, and it would be terrible if they could not sing because the building had an echo." Dave, a musician among other things, agreed and added "Or too dead to hear anything but the PA speakers."
"But for now, the fellowship hall has 650 seats. It will serve as the auditorium until the worship center is built. It is designed as a multipurpose room with a kitchen, stage, control room, and serving lines. In its own right it is a first class space."
To conclude the interview, I asked the architects if they thought this building would be in visual competition with the neighboring Church of the Nazarene. In a curtsey to his friend and competitor, architect C. Berwyn Tisdel, he said "The Nazarene Church is a real attractive building. I believe it can hold its own in comparison."
Then I asked if the intent of the design was to convey the impression of a more contemporary church as opposed to a more traditional one. The answer sounded like an echo from both architects: "Yes-Yes"
After lunch we returned to the Architects office. I wanted to take a photograph of Pete Velde along the theme of "The Artist and His Tools". Pete still uses the sketch pad and soft pencils to illustrate concepts. He also uses working models for studying form and space. For his primary medium, however, architect Velde has traded his T-square and drafting board for the computer terminal and CAD software.
Ken gives Pete credit for making the working drawings happen. To paraphrase Peteís comments: "The 3-D computer model really helped in communicating our ideas to the committee. We did a model with the roof off and let their fingers do the walking around. It was a lot better than a flat floor plan.
The computer model of the building shell let us see visually what was in our mindís eye. We could share that in a way that words could not."
The move to the new building will be phased. At one time the thought was to sell the old property and move all at once. That did not happen, and in some ways that is good. The existing facilities will continue to be used for some time, and the project will be phased accordingly. The worship center will be in a second phase, but that is not a bad idea. Since the design started, it has doubled in size to 1200 seats. If the experience of Southcrest Baptist and The Church of the Nazarene are any indication, that may not be large enough. Phasing will provide a little breathing room to reconsider the seating capacity.
I dedicate this article to the unsung design community that makes Lubbock, Texas, my hometown, the Florence of the Southwest. Recognition of their contribution to the beauty of our community is long overdue. These interviews will be liberally edited and paraphrased in the interest of brevity and levity. Yes, this is my college picture, but I think Jay Harris and Ann Landers use theirs from high school.