Master of Fine Arts
American life is increasingly fragmented, leading to a sense of restlessness and disconnection. Much of that fragmentation can be traced to our pattern of architectural and sociological development, namely, the rise of the automobile suburbs in the 1950s and 60s and the abandonment of densely populated, human- scaled environments like that of the small town or city center (Oldenberg, 1999).
Large numbers of architecturally significant buildings have fallen into disrepair over the years following the “white flight” of the 1960s and 70s, during which significant segments of investment dollars left city centers and followed to the suburbs (Kunstler, 1994). Specifically, older church buildings have fallen victim to a dilemma of sociological change. Many of the congregations that inhabit historic church buildings do not have the vitality, vision, and sometimes funds to maintain their buildings. While there are many newer congregations that do have the vision and vitality to maintain an older building, they often do not have the funds to do so. As a result, an increasing number of community treasures, buildings built at a dense urban and human scale, are being lost to neglect and misuse.
In order to gain a clearer and more specific understanding of the issues involved in revitalizing and maintaining historic sacred spaces for the benefit of their communities, a course of study was undertaken which included readings of books and articles on urban revitalization such as “The Past and Future City” by Stephanie Meeks, those on third place like Ray Oldenberg’s classic, “The Great Good Place”, and some on the integration of the arts in community centers and shared space. Case studies of successful adaptive reuse projects of church and synagogue buildings, such as Maison de la Littérature in Quebec City and those undertaken by Partners for Sacred Places in Philadelphia, were investigated. Interviews were conducted with leaders from both older and newer urban congregations, and with directors of local community centers and for-profit businesses.
According to studies completed by The National Trust, historic buildings help a city to maintain its urban vitality, and maintaining stock of old buildings must be an important component of any serious conversation about sustainability in the built environment (Meeks, 2016). At the same time, many historic and architecturally significant buildings which were constructed at a time when church attendance was a larger part of the American cultural experience are falling into disrepair because the congregations that inhabit them are often unable to generate the energy, vitality, and funding that is necessary to maintain them.
This project will explore the development of a community center for education and the performing arts in an historic church building. The program will include a small cafe, rentable studio space, a library/ reading room, a performance venue, and event space. Research will support development of a third place model, successful adaptive reuse of sacred space, and will explore options for cost-effective renovation of an historic space.
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