Monday, February 11, 2013
Architecture, Like Religion, Has Transforming Power for Springdale Church
Among the chief tenets of the Christian faith is the idea that believers
can be transformed through a relationship with God. As is written in 2
Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new
creation; the old has gone. The new has come!”
Father John Atchison and the congregation at St. Nicholas Antiochian
Orthodox Christian Church in Springdale see the building where they
worship as a metaphor for that transformative power. What was once a
metal shop building has been reborn as an award-winning structure
designed by renowned Fayetteville architect Marlon Blackwell.
St. Nicholas opened off 48th Street in Springdale three years ago, but
continues to earn recognition for its design. Blackwell, who heads the
Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, was
recently given an Honor Award for Architecture, the highest recognition
a project can earn from the American Institute of Architects.
“This was just a plain old metal building, it wasn’t spectacular,”
Atchison said. “It didn’t look like anything, but was transformed. The
metaphor can easily become how we’re very plain and not very attractive
and God makes us a temple.”
The building’s transformation has not gone unnoticed by those in the
architecture community. Blackwell has designed a number of award-winning
projects, but few seem to have resonated the way his work at St.
Since it opened, the church has racked up eight awards, including
Renovations Magazine Grand Award and AIA’s Small Projects Award in 2012.
Blackwell, like Atchison, thinks the building has an impact because
something as simple and seemingly unfit for a church as a metal shop
building has been transformed.
Plus, the project was completed with a small budget and with the
traditions of the Orthodox Church in mind. Some traditions, like having
the worship center face east, were easy to accommodate. Others presented
more of a challenge.
Orthodox churches traditionally include a dome and a recessed area in
the ceiling that includes a portrait of Christ looking over the
congregation as they worship. Adding a dome would have required cutting
through the ceiling, something that could have compromised the structure
and put the project way over its $400,000 budget.
Contractor Don Lourie suggested repurposing a satellite dish to provide
the look of a domed ceiling from inside the sanctuary. The dish —
bartered in exchange for two cases of beer — was covered in plaster,
inverted and, as it’s described on ArchDaily.com: “then inscribed with
the image of the ‘pantocrator,’ the image of Christ rising as the sun in
Other notable features of the church include: oak floor that was
produced in Arkansas, a sky-lit tower with a red glass cross that is
backlit at sunrise each day and a descending ceiling in the narthex (an
element of architecture found in early Christian churches).
There were elements of the design that Blackwell eventually had to
abandon. Instead of paintings of the church’s icons, prints or decals
are used. Blackwell had to design shelves to hold robes, candles and
other instruments of worship, rather than building cabinets for them.
It’s that simplicity — and the willingness to be a good steward of the
church’s limited resources — that has helped earn the building recognition.
“The project makes the most with the least, displaying deep resource
efficiency as an integral part of its design ethos — something more
architects should be thinking about and practicing,” one AIA juror noted
when evaluating the church.
Blackwell takes pride in the fact that limited resources could be turned
into something internationally recognized for its beauty. It has, he
said, inspired him to think about projects where he uses only repurposed
“Too often architecture is deemed for the elite, the rich and the
powerful,” Blackwell said. “I think the architecture we try to do is for
the everyday. It’s for everyone. I think this church is a way to
demonstrate that and hopefully it’s an inspiration to others.”
Atchison said the way the church is designed has been an inspiration to
church members. Because it is a humble structure and intimate, it lends
itself to the appropriate mindset for worship.
St. Nicholas has seen a 30-percent increase in attendance since it
opened. Part of that is attributed to the recognition the church has
received, and Atchison said it also helps that there are limited
distractions inside the sanctuary, which can accommodate up to 100
people when a moveable wall is opened up into the fellowship hall.
“I think it’s simple enough that people can relax,” Atchison said. “If
you make it extremely elaborate it can be distracting. People who have
come to church here tell us it’s interesting how people just come in and
worship. That is the goal, after all: Get people to think about God and