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Solomon Awards 2018 – St. Andrew United Methodist Church (Church Sanctuary Design, Non-AVL technology focused, Traditional and Contemporary)

St. Andrew United Methodist Church partnered with GFF Architects to develop a master plan for their next 30 years of growth on their scenic 21-acre property in Plano, Texas. Their top priority was to provide a larger space for their rapidly growing contemporary worship service which launched in 2012. The current space held a maximum of 500 people in a converted gym.

Building a new dedicated contemporary worship space or expanding the current space was impractical due to limited allowable buildable area and cost. At the time, the traditional and contemporary services were worshipping at opposite ends of their campus bisected by a creek which divided the congregation and the facility. St. Andrew’s leadership tasked GFF with uniting the campus as part of the master plan design.

Their beautiful 20,500 SF traditional Sanctuary was built in 2001, designed primarily for organ, choir and orchestral music, and seats a maximum of 1,800 people. GFF collaborated with theater consultant and technology design firm, Idibri, to reimagine the current Sanctuary to house both traditional and contemporary worship styles. This concept was in keeping with St. Andrew’s desire to better steward the space they already have. Their leadership was extremely concerned about damaging either the aesthetics or acoustics of the current space. They tasked the team with designing the architectural and AVL improvements to accommodate contemporary worship to do so in a way that was invisible to traditional worshippers. Even though the goal of the project was to integrate the contemporary worship service into the traditional Sanctuary, the team also upgraded the audio and acoustics for the traditional service to improve speech intelligibility.

The more visible architectural design changes included removing the porcelain tile flooring and replacing it with wood for warmth, extending the platform further into the room for a more intimate feel, expanding the AVL control booth, and replacing the side projection screens with LED. The contemporary worship equipment needed to be incorporated as sensitively as possible and the design team pushed the limits of available technology. In addition to the main design challenges, St. Andrew also wanted to have the flexibility to transform the room in 30 minutes between the traditional and contemporary worship service times. As a result, the design solution for the LED center screen found inspiration from touring concerts. A new 22 foot-by-40 foot LED center screen made up of smaller individual panels was designed to be constructed between the services by church volunteers in less than 30 minutes. The team designed custom rolling carts to receive rows of LED panels already assembled and quickly move them from the newly designed back-of-house storage room to the platform. Steel was added above the ceiling to support the rigging for the center screen and hoists lower from above when necessary.

For the space to be acoustically conducive to contemporary worship, the reflective surfaces in the room which optimize traditional worship are temporarily modified. 66 retractable electronically operated, acoustic banners were seamlessly added to the space; 26 in the attic above the main ceiling with the remainder recessed into pockets in the lower balcony ceilings.

All the existing lighting fixtures were retrofitted in place to color changing LED giving a wide range of scene possibilities for the room. Two new lighting positions were installed in the ceiling over the platform and a new light truss was discretely added in the rear of the room providing additional theatrical lighting and speakers. Speakers and subwoofers were recessed into the expanded platform panels and concealed by millwork matching the adjacent walls. New line array speakers were delicately suspended from the ceiling at the front of the room. Projectors were hidden above the ceiling to allow image projection on the balcony fronts. The audio system was completely replaced with the necessary infrastructure to serve both the contemporary worship service and enhance the traditional worship service.

The design succeeds in meeting St. Andrew’s goals; dramatically transforming the room in less than 30 minutes and sensitively integrating the renovations while complementing the existing architecture. St. Andrew’s contemporary service has already seen rapid growth and they are excited for the way this project has energized their congregation to reimagine their next 30 years.

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