Tucked within a grove of heritage oaks, the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit is a peaceful, light-filled retreat that offers a connection to nature, draws the church community closer together, and provides a cost-effective plan that anticipates the church’s future growth.
The project started as a master planning exercise with the church’s Sacred Space team. A highly interactive process, various massing schemes were considered and precedent images researched in order to fully understand the church’s desires and goals. The process culminated in a vision that included a sanctuary with a deep connection to the surrounding natural environment.
The project team encouraged the Sacred Space team to complete the primary space — the sanctuary — in phase I since subsequent planned phases are often never completed. As a result, a beautiful but highly flexible and efficient sanctuary was developed, which is now also the temporary home of their administration, classrooms, kitchen, and the Chapel of St. Michael. In the second phase these ancillary programs will be moved into separate buildings, the sanctuary seating capacity doubled to 400, and the porch enclosed to become a narthex.
In order to create a greater sense of community and equality, the altar was placed at the center of the sanctuary with seating surrounding it rather than following the typical arrangement of the altar at the far end with rows of pews facing opposite. For this same reason, a hipped roof was used instead of a gabled roof so that all walls in the resulting space are equal heights, literally containing the congregants under a single shared roof. The symbolism used within the sanctuary reflects this same sentiment: a large Jerusalem cross with all four arms equal in length is located near the altar, and a rood screen— typically seen in Gothic and Anglican architecture—surrounds the congregants rather than separating them from the altar.
Much of the design incorporates, and at times reinterprets, symbolic elements found within the region’s historical liturgical architecture. The blue ceilings of the porch and sanctuary call on the traditional use of Haint Blue: it was believed that blue porch ceilings, reminiscent of the sky, would deter birds and mud daubers from nesting there; church ceilings were typically painted this same shade to ward off evil spirits. A similar blue is seen in the stained concrete floors, this time symbolic of baptismal waters. The exterior red oak door provides a contemporary variation on the tradition of a painted red church door, and provides continuity in materiality with the interior pews. The steel door pulls were fabricated in house by the Overland Workshop, and a red oak cross emerges from the voids created by the pulls.
Ultimately, the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit creates a place of connection and balance: steeped in tradition but reflective of its own time, embedded in nature within a larger urban environment, a space for peace and reflection within a vibrant community.