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Music and light again fill the sanctuary of West Side Presbyterian Church, transformed and renewed following a a 2002 catastrophic fire. The new church, on the same site as the old, reflects the congregation’s love for the church they remembered, and their need for a space that looks to the future. The project not only included renovation and redesign of the existing church structure, but new additions to accommodate program needs, and minor modifications to the adjacent Christian Education Building.
For the reconstruction, designers were inspired by the light that filled the ruin after the fire. It led to the idea of layering the light so congregants would have the sense of praying outdoors. A new north-south axis allowed architects to take more advantage of natural light in the building’s design. The use of recessed skylights at the eaves of the sanctuary allows light to animate the stone walls. Curved wood screens and operable shutters filter light in the glass chapel, and the all-glass ceiling of the new gallery conveys a sense of openness to the sky. Some of the existing stone walls were reused in the design.
A centerpiece of the project is a new organ, also designed by Newman Architects in collaboration with Nichols & Simpson, Inc. Organ builders. It was designed to complement the church’s interior, following the arching ceiling of the chancel and emulating other architectural details of the church. The organ, as a visual focal point for the congregation, was integrated into the architecture as a natural extension of the interior, rather than simply an installation of a musical instrument. The church is internationally recognized for its music program and ceremonies engaging the public in religious and non-religious programming.