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The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago

We're delighted to present our design for the addition to one of Chicago's great historic landmarks, The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Sited on Michigan Avenue amidst Chicago’s most popular shopping district and immediately across the street from the John Hancock Tower, Fourth Church is one of the most visible religious institutions in Chicago.

Slated to begin construction in late 2010,  the addition will include classrooms, a day school, library, dining facility, multi-function spaces, a 350-person chapel, and a large double-height gallery that connects the addition to the original building. When complete in 2012, the building will support a congregation of 10,000 (Fourth Church currently has 6,000 parishioners). The building will be five stories tall, include 82,000 square feet of new space, and is designed to achieve a LEED Silver certification. The programming document, outlining in detail the church’s needs, is available online here.

Fourth Church's history is intertwined with that of the city itself. Holding its first worship service on the day of the Great Chicago Fire, the original building was quickly destroyed. As Chicagoans rebuilt their city, the congregation quickly rebuilt their church. Since re-opening, eight million people have passed through the doors of Fourth Church. Lamar Johnson, Managing Director of Gensler Chicago says, “The building is a visible reminder of the city’s cultural and religious heritage, and it's right in the heart of The Magnificent Mile. We're delighted to take part in shaping the next chapter for this Chicago icon.”

Design Director Brian Vitale explains, “The vertical window on Chestnut denotes sacred space, like a steeple, and tells everyone on the street where the chapel is. The east and west facades are largely glass, allowing everyone on the street to see the activity of the classrooms which are used by both youth and adults alike.”

The exterior is clad in weathered copper panels, which are meant to complement the existing limestone structure, not mimic it. Vitale says, “The copper already adorns the church as flashing, copings, downspouts, scuppers, lanterns and dormers. The accessory material now becomes a building, bringing the material to the forefront and allowing it to stand on its own while symbolically creating a foil to the church, and therefore acting, in the larger context, in deference.”

The church’s solace and tranquility sharply contrast with its bustling neighborhood and Michigan Avenue's vibrant streetlife. Modern interpretations of the existing gothic architecture further tie the new to the old. Gothic tracery, proportions, and semi-public green space are incorporated into the new addition’s design.

“This building was really planned from the inside out,” says Todd Heiser, Design Director for interiors. He also like to call the addition “the ultimate Transformer," explaining that "all of the classes and programs that the church offers have to fit into the new building whose space had to be downright agile." The addition includes 22 classrooms for adult education, two children’s classrooms, a two-story chapel, activity rooms, several lounges, a food pantry and counseling center.

A room used for tai chi classes might morph (in a matter of minutes) into one used for a watercolor painting class. The chapel could be used for a funeral or a wedding in the morning and in the afternoon, a venue for the third graders’ Christmas pageant.

In other words, the interior has to transform from quiet to loud, from contemplative and sacred to exuberant, from high-tech to high-touch and perhaps most notably, from parishioner space to community center enjoyed by those whom the church considers its “clients”: children, seniors, the downtrodden. (The church tutors 800 students a week who are not parishioners. It serves 400 lunches a week and 200 Sunday suppers for the needy.)


Links for Further Information:

The Chicago Tribune: bit.ly/9ZpFQB

The Architect's Newspaper: bit.ly/dpPoJ4

Skyline News: bit.ly/98KqUu


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