Unique Opportunities for Continuing Education

Last weekend, my husband and I attended the first of eight—that’s right, eight!—weddings we’re invited to this summer. I’m not a religious person but I respect the traditions of the church and the values that are taught within it. Therefore, I like to attend wedding ceremonies. I think the sermons offer good reminders of what creates a lasting marriage. I consider it continuing education.

Plus, I love peeking inside the churches of various religions and marveling at the high ceilings, stained-glass windows, intricately carved displays over altars, ornate woodwork and more. Craftsmen of yesteryear let their skills shine as they created stunning spaces in which to worship. As interest in organized religion continues to decline, however, it becomes burdensome for dwindling congregations to pay for these churches’ upkeep. Unfortunately, many are demolished to make way for new structures much to the chagrin of former parishioners.

This wasn’t the case in Boston’s South End recently, however. Although land is scarce, historic character is plentiful in the neighborhood, and it’s valued. Boston-based New Boston Ventures LLC has been building in the area for 25 years and jumped at the chance to purchase the 1871 German Trinity Catholic Church when it went on the market. The developer’s goal from
the get-go was to transform the church into 33 high-end condominiums—not necessarily the first use that comes to mind for a church or the easiest to execute.

“We saw potential immediately in the church,” explains Marc Savatsky, LEED AP, CSL, development project manager for New Boston Ventures. “It had a great structure to it. Some features of it actually lent itself nicely to our condo vision, and we had a team of very talented architects at Finegold Alexander who helped us really start to picture what this might look like and helped us study it in terms of programming so we had the confidence to pursue it aggressively.”
Read in “Multifamily”, how modern engineering helped produce the volume the design team needed to create the new condo building, known as The Lucas.

Sometimes churches are underutilized simply because they are lacking the amenities needed to make them functional. Such was the case with Evergreen Chapel, which is located within Evergreen Cemetery in rural Berwick, Maine. The 1939 chapel was built to hold funeral services but had not been used in recent years because it wasn’t connected to utilities, meaning no lighting or space conditioning. The architects at Lassel Architects PA, South Berwick, Maine, were charged with updating the chapel for use in the 21st century while respecting its historic character. “The new installations and fixtures selected respect the historic building without falsifying the history of the renovation,” notes Michal Kaleta, CPHC, with Lassel Architects. Read about this charming project in “Inspiration”.

Oftentimes, it makes the most sense to expand a facility’s uses to make it more beneficial for a religious organization. For example, the Archdiocese of Portland (Oregon) decided to transform a modest 2,000-square-foot Midcentury Modern administration building for its Gethsemani Catholic Cemetery into a complete funeral home and crematorium. But, according to author Brian Libby, size was a concern. How would the design team at DiLoreto Architecture, Portland, introduce a chapel and all the attendant funeral-home capabilities on a limited amount of available land and retain portions of the office that had been renovated as recently as 2011? Find out in “Transformation”.

Each of these facilities’ renovations respect the original design and the work of previous craftsmen. Preserving the past is increasingly rare these days but encouraging today’s design and construction teams to maintain historic character helps them improve their skills by learning from those who came before—yet another valuable form of continuing education.

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director of retrofit.

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