A celestial space
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
A trattoria and a boutique hotel, yes. Ditto residences, retail jobs, and offices. But until Abramson Teiger Architects renovated California's First Presbyterian Church of Encino, an A-frame built in 1954, the firm had never worked on a church. "We viewed the project as intellectual rather than religious," says principal Trevor Abramson. "We came up with a lot of ideas during our first walk-through. Church committee members were excited by our energy."
Not to mention their assimilation of pragmatism and theology in transforming the 5,700-square-foot church. To cover exposed glulam beams and framing and soften the peak of the soaring nave, the architects built panels of plaster-finished drywall. The panels' curved shape derives from medieval depictions of the Madonna's hands cupped in prayer.
Abramson Teiger also envisioned whiteness and sunlight for their uplifting qualities. In the San Fernando Valley, though, sunshine posed a problem. "We had to be careful not to turn the church into a greenhouse," says Abramson. Installing 14 skylights, the architects placed the apertures strategically, so the drywall panels would shield the nave from some of the heat, then specified dual glazing silk-screened with a dot pattern. (Incandescent theater fixtures and fluorescent cove lighting and sconces illuminate evening services and concerts.)
The 28 custom white-oak pews stand in amphitheater formation. "It's more friendly and intimate than traditional linear seating," says Abramson. The communion table and glass baptismal font are both finished in white plaster and topped by white Thassos marble. A 16-foot-high white plaster cross hangs over the altar, supported by a cantilevered steel tube welded to the wall; the previous cross, of similar dimensions but in oak, now hangs at the rear of the church. "The white cross represents the church's new design. The old one represents its past," explains principal Douglas Teiger.
New flooring acts as a vehicle for contrast. The floor of the chancel, extended forward 20 feet to connect more with the congregation, is concrete painted glossy black. For the remaining floor, Abramson Teiger chose gray carpet.
Although the architects were ecclesiastical-design neophytes previous to this project, that didn't stop them from completing the church in seven months and claiming the 2003 AIA California Council Honor Award for the renovation. A miracle, perhaps, or just God-given talent and divine intervention.