In a recent column (“Modernism Struggles for Respect in KC Streetscape,” June 6), Steve Paul commented that builders should embrace “a sense of community, history, landscape and architectural integrity.”
As a member of Westport Presbyterian Church, I am keenly interested in the question of tradition versus modernism in architecture. Our sanctuary, opened in 1904, and our educational wing, built in 1916, were destroyed by fire and water on Dec. 29, 2011.
Before the fire, we had initiated a community survey to help us ascertain the greatest needs of those who live, work and play in Westport. After the fire, we were gratified by many community members who urged us to rebuild on the same site, “because we need you to continue the care and concern you have for this community.”
We chose BNIM to design the new buildings in part because of their prior involvement in the Westport community and their conviction that our rebuilt church could become a focal point for the community.
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We decided to save the sanctuary’s exterior stone walls and stained glass windows “to preserve the historic look of the building” but to make the interior areas totally up to date and contemporary in design, meeting all Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for accessibility and meeting city codes, which the old buildings didn’t do.
The church’s elevation above street level challenged the lead architect, Erik Heitman, to provide wheelchair accessibility from Westport Road to the north door, and this will be achieved by creative landscaping and a ramp. Both the sanctuary and the education wing will be as energy efficient as possible.
The education wing was deconstructed so that its stone could be used in the landscaping. Much of the valuable old lumber was preserved as well.
The slopes of the sanctuary roof remain the same, but the roof is raised a few feet to create a clerestory, providing daylight in the sanctuary.
Between the sanctuary and the education wing, a new “Heritage Hall” will feature memorabilia from the church’s long history. A classic European style pipe organ being built by Martin Pasi and Associates in Roy, Wash., will grace the sanctuary, providing another blend of traditional and new.
A new feature will be a “storefront” area on Westport Road, where our community services will be available to people. Andy Huber, project manager for A.L.Huber, has worked closely with Rev. Scott Myers, pastor, and church members to achieve our vision.
The congregation expects to return to 201 Westport Road in the fall, and to have the new organ installed by Christmas, four years after the fire.
Not everyone agrees with combining “old” and “new.” I went into Westport Library to return a book, and commented enthusiastically to one of the librarians that she had a front row “seat” from which to watch the church’s rebuilding. She frowned and replied, “I don’t like it. I’m a traditionalist.” I mentioned that we are using the original stone and windows for the sanctuary, but she insisted on being dissatisfied. “Well,” I said, “If you are determined to be unhappy about it, then you no doubt will be!”
I prefer to celebrate the church’s history while looking forward to having up-to-date buildings from which to continue our ministry.
Marian McCaa Thomas is retired organist and choir director at Westport Presbyterian Church.