Addition: Ascension Lutheran Church

October 6th, 2005 by Peter Schmelzer

Northfield Architects design Brookings church

Ascension Lutheran Church is a thriving congregation in Brookings, South Dakota.

Lutheran Church Addition - Vivus ArchitectsAscension Lutheran Church is a thriving congregation in Brookings, South Dakota.

While employed with SMSQ Architects, I worked with the Building Task Force to develop a long term Master Plan for expansion of their facilities. When the time came to develop the first project of the Master Plan, Vivus was selected as the design architect, working with the architect of record, Koch Hazard Architects of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The project is a worship space addition and remodeling of existing space for a new gathering space, restrooms, administrative offices, conference room and an improved fellowship hall.

Budget: Tight for the scope of work desired.
Aesthetics: As you will see, the existing worship space presented very strong geometry that was to be respected with the new addition.
Hospitality and Flow: The existing floor plan made navigating to the various rooms of the building very challenging for new members.
Tight Site: Landlocked by city streets, the addition had to respond to tight setbacks and to the big picture of the Master Plan.


Simple geometry responds to both the aesthetic and budget concerns. Axial arrangement of the altar platform with the existing church unifies the worship and gathering spaces in a way that suits the aesthetic and liturgical sensibilities of the congregation.
The new gathering space becomes the hub of activity. Visitors clearly know where to find worship and reception, with a strong corridor connection to Fellowship and Education. Restrooms are discreetly out of sight but easy to find (and located for easy verbal directions).
The Fellowship Hall remodeling allows meetings of various sizes, acoustically tuned for each. Also, the corridor is separated from the Fellowship Hall, so private meetings are not disrupted by traffic to the education wing.
Offices are centrally located for better functionality and connection to the hub. A new work room will dramatically improve production of church fliers and bulletins and will graciously accomodate a variety of volunteer help.

Other Features:
Flexible seating (chairs) for re-posturing the assembly
Central Skylight: unifies the assembly with natural light, provides a beacon in the night supporting a new, lighted cross
Coffee Bar: Hard-plumbed facility for this primary Lutheran institution of hospitality
Entry Portal: Custom wood doors with leaded glass transom to celebrate the passage from gathering to worship.
Cross Window: Large northwest window links the assembly to the beautiful site and proclaims the nature of the building to passers-by.

The images that follow describe the interactive design process up to Design Development. There are several images and a video clip, so dial-up viewers may want to plan a break before reading further.

Floor plan of expansion of existing worship space (nave)
Through an interactive process, VIVUS and Koch Hazard Architects listened to the congregations needs and wants. Each concept was discussed and graphically represented on a card for everyone to see and discuss. Through these “Listening Sessions” and the cards, ideas were exchanged, considered and recorded; and a good time was had by all!

Floor plan of expansion of existing worship space (nave)
Concept 1 Floor Plan:
Study of expanding the existing worship space (pink), remodeling the existing narthex into the new gathering space (white), and providing new offices (yellow) to the north.

Floor plan of expansion of existing worship space (nave)
Concept 2 Floor Plan:
New Worship Space attached to existing, which becomes the gathering space. Provides better phasing so the church can remain functional through construction, larger gathering space, and greater freedom of building form.

Floor plan of expansion of existing worship space (nave)
Concept 3 Floor Plan:
Same idea as Concept 1, but wider than the existing worship space to allow greater flexibility in seating arrangement and rainwater treatment.

Check Point:
Concept 2 was deemed best for its ability to allow the church to continue worshiping in the current worship space for much of the construction period. The worship space addition could be virtually complete before the gathering space remodeling. It also is the best in terms of respect for the existing building, which won an American Institute of Architects award in its day.

church addition massing study
Concept 4 Massing Study

Floor plan of expansion of existing worship space (nave)
Concept 4 Floor Plan:
A continuation of Concept 2, with floor areas reduced to better match budget and needs. Further study of windows and orientation.

church addition massing study
Concept 5 Massing Study

Liturgical Space Design Perspective
Concept 5 Perspective

Floor plan of expansion of existing worship space (nave)
Concept 5 Floor Plan:
A further development of Concept 4, with adjustments for better site relationships, views and presentation to the street.

Check point:
Concepts 4 and 5 worked well in many ways, but the feeling that we were recreating a “peanut gallery” remained. “Peanut gallery” is the term we used for a section of seating at 90-degrees to the main aisle. It became clear that a more traditional seating arrangement would be best for the congregation, so we developed a sixth concept.

church addition massing study
Concept 6 Massing Study

Liturgical Space Design Perspective
Concept 6 Perspective

Hospitable entry
Concept 6 Perspective

Building overview
Concept 6 Floor Plan:
Seating arrangements in the previous concepts didn’t quite fit the congregation, so this concept was born. Simpler form, this iteration allows for a more traditional “front and center” altar platform instead of the more flexible “in the round” arrangement.

Check Point:
Concept 6 is better in many ways for Ascension. It offers a more comfortable seating arrangement, provides storage and sacristy near the altar (where it is needed), and simplifies the form of the building. In short, it was met with open arms!

Elevation study sketches
During Design Development, we carefully studied the proportions, structural systems, and connections. Throughout the process, we worked back and forth with sketches and models, e-mailing ideas back and forth. This sketch is one of those.

Elevation study sketches
As these elevations show, we settled on Study #3, with a horizontal band dividing the curtain wall windows between the new and existing forms.

The Design Development drawings were passed to Koch Hazard, and at the time of writing, Construction Documents are well underway, with construction slated to being early in 2006.

Our goal is to help people understand design ideas, so they can make well informed decisions early in the process. To that end, we have begun using video clips to help our clients understand ideas quickly. Here is a clip of the proposed structure for Concept 6. Press play when the download ends to view.

Through close contact and excellent communication, VIVUS and Koch Hazard Architects worked closely with the congregation to shape a worship space that suits their worship style and needs.

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