CHURCH GROWTH


 

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Some building additions are jarring.  Differing architectural styles, materials, construction methods and age can make additions appear incompatible.  Often we see an early 1900s, stone Gothic Revival church with a 1960s, flat-roofed brick “education wing” stuck on.  No doubt, the choice of a functional, utilitarian block addition made for wise stewardship.  It just doesn’t make for pleasing architecture when it is easily visible.

Education Wing Appended to a Gothic Revival Church  

Certainly, a compatible design does not require slavish reproduction of style or even materials.  A typical example is the stone, Gothic sanctuary building married to a later office-parish hall addition built in the related (and later) Tudor style using half-timber wall finish. Pittsburgh’s Swedenborgian New Church is a suave demonstration of this combination. 

    

Pittsburgh New Church (Swedenborgian): Tudor Parish Hall (l) Gothic Church (r)

Even distinctly disparate styles of church architecture can be joined, sometimes after a peaceful but awkward coexistence.  Wayne Presbyterian Church  (near Philadelphia) began life in an 1870 stone building with Georgian features reminiscent of Christopher Wren’s London churches.  By 1893, they constructed a larger Gothic Revival church on an adjacent lot.  The two styles are usually incompatible, and later administration and education wings at the rear neither increased nor reduced their natural tension.

 

Wayne (PA) Presbyterian Gothic Revival Church and Georgian Chapel

Photos Courtesy G. Prichard Wayne History OnLine

Atrium Joining Wayne Presbyterian Church and Chapel

Photo at left Courtesy GYA Architects

In 1998 a creative, atrium-like gathering area by Philadelphia architect George Yu joined the two.  Its use of glass and steel clearly avoided trying to match either building.  References to Gothic arches as well as strong Georgian horizontals and verticals pay respect to each.  Because the new structure eschews solid walls, it understates its own architecture, integrating more easily with its partners. 

Original Shadyside Structure Completed 1890

The most straightforward way to achieve compatibility is to use a single style.  At Shadyside Presbyterian, through careful planning, an accommodating building lot and adequate resources, a consistent Richardsonian Romanesque motif has been maintained since the 1890 completion of the third church building.  The central tower with gabled transepts and extensions and the round pastor’s study tower made up the initial structure. See Growth Models for step-by-step depictions of the development of the church.

GREEN-Original Church 1890    BLUE-Chapel 1892  YELLOW Chapel Addition 1908

RED-Chancel & Offices 1938 ORANGE-Parish Hall 1953  WHITE-North Porch 1983

During construction, the church used its original frame building.  As soon as the main structure was complete, the frame building was replaced by the present chapel.  It was ready in 1892 and connected to the sanctuary by the colonnaded walkway, often called the cloister (a stricter definition reserves this term for the area enclosed by the walkway).   Around 1908, the chapel was extended to the north.

   

"Cloister" and Chapel Completed 1892

With the exception of a temporary framed vestibule at the front entrance, the exterior of the church did not change again until 1937.  To accommodate interior worship space modifications, a semi-circular apse was added to the east end of the church.  At that time, administrative offices were added near the pastor’s study.  Time and the quality of workmanship have obscured evidence that these were additions.  

 

Apse and Offices Completed 1938

The next major addition was the parish hall to the north of the existing structures on ground that slopes gently down from the main building.  Completed in 1953, the rock-faced ashlar facing blends well with the earlier structures.  The flat roof of this hall might seem out of place on eleventh and twelfth century Romanesque architecture, but the designers found precedent.  One reason for this roof shape was as a provision for a possible addition of a second story.  The underlying structure was designed to accommodate this.  

Parish Hall

Up through the construction of the parish hall, it would not be “intuitively obvious to the causal observer” that any portion of Shadyside Church was not original.  Beside the consistency of design and technique, the architectural style itself allows seamless integration of additions.  Romanesque is “picturesque” architecture (for the qualities that constitute a good painting) which prizes balance rather than symmetry, an external form that accommodates internal function and sympathetic adaptation to the building site.  

Shadyside originally had only one porch.  In church architecture, a porch is an appendage to the main structure used as a transitional space.  It serves much the same purpose as a narthex (which is integrated within the main structure).  The gabled and shed-roofed structures at the southwest corner form a porch.  There was no corresponding feature at the northeast corner.  

 

1983 North Porch (l) and Original South Porch (r)

By 1983, the church saw the need for more classroom and meeting space.  The solution was a “porch” to the left of the main entrance (which houses the Craig Room ).  The basic form was mirrored from the south porch.  It takes careful inspection to recognize that it is larger than the original porch on the right side.  Even if it were obvious, the greater width would not pose a problem for Romanesque architecture, with its affinity for asymmetry.  

North Porch Limestone Lighter Color Than Original Sandstone

The other differences of the new porch are more apparent.  The sandstone facing of the bulk of the church is brown-gray shade.   The 1983 porch is of limestone, with a cooler gray, more directly on the color scale between white and black.  There was a starker color contrast before nine decades of black soot were removed from the church in a 1991 surface cleaning.  

Shadyside Cleaned - Photo Courtesy Tom Auel

 

Original Column Detail (l) & Simplified 1983 Column (r)

Closer inspection shows diminished detail in the carving on the new porch.  This may be attributable to the high cost to replicate the intricacy of the original features.  Even in 1953, somewhat elaborate carved medallions were affordable for the parish hall.   And so, only the last major building addition reveals itself by its appearance.  The form, scale and fenestration still harmonize with the structure as a whole.  

Picturesque Juncture of Various Building Campaigns

Shadyside Presbyterian Church has been blessed with the resources and determination to grow its buildings through additions designed in keeping with the original landmark quality architecture.  The reliance on Richardsonian Romanesque has resulted in a pleasing, rambling, organic appearance.  It will be interesting to see if there are future expansions to the church that challenge this long-standing consistency.  Stewards of valuable gifts sometimes face daunting decisions.

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