October 28, 2009

Could developing large parking lots help suburban churches fund improvements? Grenfell Architecture has designed this plan to help a parish create a more beautiful church using solid New Urbanist principles and traditional Virginia architecture.

The church occupies typically sprawling suburban lot, surrounded by seas of asphalt and low-rise buildings. However while I was working at Grenfell Architecture we tried to look at this project in a radical way. We came up with a plan to fix the disorganized sprawl of parking lots and low-rise buildings to create a new neighborhood and to truly make this church the center of a community.

The primary focus was to design a new church that better reflected the liturgical reforms of the past few years within the Catholic church. Since many parishes have only limited resources, we explored how a phased development could help turn this parish from asphalt-dominated auto-centric sprawl into to a walkable mixed-use neighborhood.

Both parishioners and priests alike have given this plan almost universally positive reviews. The pastor of this church has seen the plans and is amenable to the idea, but it does not represent any actual plans to construct this project.

1. This is the current site condition. The area is disorganized and chaotic, dominated by parking there is little in terms of good outdoor space, and the buildings do not create any ensemble in any way.

2. The first step is to create a system of streets. This begins to organize the area into a block structure. The streets are designed for on-street parking, amazingly providing an equal number of parking spots diffused about the site.

Note too that the connections are created to allow for this neighborhood to become a center to adjoining neighborhoods.

3. Parking now not being at a premium, the large parking lot facing the street is replaced by a section of shop-front commercial with apartments above. The corner would be anchored by a neighborhood size grocery store, and other small shops such as florists, coffee shops, or service businesses could occupy the rest. The apartments above see their first residents in anywhere from 10 to 20 apartments. These apartments would be ideal for elderly or younger couples who might not be able to afford larger homes.

4. The first set of 20 townhouses are built upon empty parking lots. The townhouses feature alleys behind with one or two car garages. These are geared towards families with children who might attend the local school.

5. The parish school which would be now after sales or lease of properties, be able to afford to build a new three story school. The school would have the same area of classes, but having a taller profile provides a more compact footprint.

Note: up to this point the only demolition that has occured is of parking lots. Already the campus has been improved tremendously.

6. Now having built a new school, the old school could be the first demolition, allowing for the construction of 28 new townhouses and another small section of commercial storefronts and apartments. The townhouses each feature the same rear facing garages and small yards behind.

7. Now the school could complete the reconstruction of the school by completing a rear wing with gymnasium that would create a pleasant interior courtyard. The courtyard also allows for light to reach all classrooms of the school.

8. Having completed all of the residential components, the parish could now use the funding that has been generated from the residential sales and commercial rents, to help build a new church. The new church here might incorporate a small historic chapel as part of the complex of the church, sacristy and rectory for the parish. The existing rectory would be removed, but the pastor could reside in an apartment or one of the townhomes while the new rectory is being built.

9. Now that the parish has a new church and chapel, the old church is demolished to complete the plan. A new set of storefront buildings would be finished in such a way as to create an orderly town square. The town square would be activated by having stores, coffee shops and both school and church functions on its green.

Between this commercial block a parking lot would be created to serve the commercial as well as the apartments built above. Using the topography, a parking structure could also be built behind, doubling the parking.

However, one would hope that since this neighborhood center would be home to almost 75 families, that the need for parking would be reduced significantly. The appeal of being able to be close to school, church and shopping, as well as possibly work, along with a local bus line running to Metro along the main road would encourage less auto use by residents.

The key though is the church as the center of the community. This principle is easily applied to followers of any faith, allowing for their own faith to be shared by their neighbors, and to provide visible witness to neighbors as well. Making the church not just a place where people go on Sundays but a visible and active part of their lives, giving residents something shared that brings them together as a real community.
All Images Copyright Grenfell Architecture PLLC.

Update: This post has been reposted on Greater Greater Washington, please go to this link to see the discussion there.


Anonymous said...

I strayed across your blog somehow and was enthralled, especially by this post. If you are able, please continue to write and share more with us!

Anthony OPL

Francis said...

Has this sort of project been attempted anywhere? Philip Bess proposed something similar in a chapter of his book 'Till We Have Built Jerusalem' (ISI Books). It would be interesting to know whether it has ever been tried and whether it turned out to be financially plausible.

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