Community service has always been an important part of Gethsemane Lutheran Church's mission. Located just north of Seattle's downtown core, in a part of the city where glassy office and apartment towers are rapidly replacing low-scale residential and commercial structures, the church has longstanding programs providing free meals and accepting mail for people without a physical address. But for more than a decade, the congregation had been dreaming of doing more. And in 2007, after Gethsemane sold its air rights and a parking lot that was part of its campus, the parishioners got their chance, directing the proceeds of the deal toward construction of apartments for low-income individuals and families, the homeless, and the developmentally disabled.
With its partner, Compass Housing Alliance–a nonprofit developer of affordable housinge–Gethsemane came up with a plan to build the 50-unit Dekko Place Apartments on the site then occupied by its two-story parish building. The clients hired two local firms: SMR as architect of record and Olson Kundig as design architect for the church facilities that would be part of the $12 million project, including administrative offices, a new chapel, and the renovation of Gethsemane's Mid-Century Modern brick sanctuary.
The architects devised a scheme for a new seven-story building that stacks five wood-framed floors of apartments above a two-story poured-in-place-concrete base for Gethsemane's chapel and its offices. And as part of the plan they created a below-grade space for a new tenant, Mary's Place, a day center for homeless women and their children. With its new and renovated spaces for the congregation, facilities for social-service providers, and the affordable housing, “the building's program is a three-legged stool,” explains Kimberly McKittrick, SMR's project manager.
The facade cladding ties the disparate pieces together, literally and figuratively, say the designers. Ocher, terra-cotta, and deep-red steel panels overlap horizontally and vertically to suggest Christian crosses or woven fabric. The theme continues on the planted roof terrace, where different types of sedums achieve a similar crisscross effect–one that is visible from the nearby office and apartment towers. “The pattern,” says Jim Olson, principal at Olson Kundig, “is symbolic of weaving the parts of the program together.”
If the metaphor seems unnecessary, it doesn't detract from the success of the project's constituent parts. The building's studios and one- and two-bedroom living units, for example, have efficient but comfortable layouts that range from about 350 to 850 square feet, each with its own kitchen and bath. And although they have no-nonsense finishes, like wood-grained strip-vinyl floor and plastic-laminate counters, the apartments also include decidedly noninstitutional features, such as radiant heating and wood-framed, operable windows. These windows, which are clear-coated on the interior and clad in aluminum on the exterior to match the facade panels, give the apartments an open and airy quality, especially in the units that stack above the building's west-facing corner, where the glazing extends almost from the floor to the ceiling.
For anyone walking by Gethsemane, the jewel-like corner chapel, along with an adjoining outdoor space protected from Seattle's frequent rain, will make the biggest impression. Unlike the much larger and inwardly focused main sanctuary, whose only connections to the outside environment are a skylight and a set of clerestory windows, the new 32-foot-long by 20-foot-wide chapel is defined by vertical strips of colored art glass that wrap the 21-foot-tall room on three sides. Sunlight shining through the glazing bathes the polished-concrete floor in a rainbow of hues, in the manner of stained glass. But the windows permit passersby to peer in, perhaps piquing their interest in what takes place within the chapel (the room has been the setting for events as diverse as informal prayer services, weddings, and yoga classes) and in the church and its mission. The room also allows its occupants to see the city surrounding them, serving as a reminder of the importance of ties to the community, explains Gethsemane's pastor, Joanne Engquist: “The chapel is our window on downtown.”
Size: 64,000 square feet
Cost : $12 million
Completion date: June 2012
Olson Kundig Architects
159 South Jackson Street, Suite 600
Seattle, WA 98104
t: 206 624 5670
f: 206 624 3730
Architect of Record:
911 Western Avenue, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98104
t: 206 623 1104
f: 206 623 5285
Owner: Gethsemane Lutheran Church / Compass Housing Alliance
Architect of Record:
Personnel in architect's firms who should receive special credit:
Olson Kundig Architects:
Associate architect: Olson Kundig Architects
General contractor: Rafn Company
CAD system, project management, or other software used: