A light in the city of Chicago

Friday 28 Jun 2013

Gensler designs a unique extension to The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago

Sited on Michigan Avenue amidst Chicago’s most popular shopping district and immediately across the street from the John Hancock Tower, The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago (Fourth Church) is one of the most visible cultural institutions in Chicago. Described as the 'light in the city'for more than 140 years, Fourth Church’s history is intertwined with that of the city itself. Representing the evolution of a Chicago icon, the Gratz Center sits as an extension to the Church and its facilities include classrooms, a day school, library, dining facility, kitchen, multi-function spaces, and several lounges, as well as a 350-person chapel and a large double-height gallery which all connects to the original buildings.

The Gratz Center, designed by Gensler, will enable Fourth Church to continue to serve its community as it integrates more deeply into the City of Chicago. With the addition of the Gratz Center, Fourth Church can now support a congregation of 10,000 (Fourth Church currently has 6,000 parishioners). The Gratz Center has been designed to complement, not mimic, the original Fourth Church buildings. Copper adorns the historic church as flashing, copings, downspouts, scuppers, lanterns and dormers.

In the new addition, the accessory material becomes exterior cladding, drawing a historic material to the forefront. This allows the new addition to stand on its own while symbolically creating a foil to the historic church. At night, the internal light of the Gratz Center will gleam like a beacon, backlighting the historic, original Fourth Church on Michigan Avenue. Modern interpretations of the existing gothic architecture further tie the new to the old. Gothic tracery, proportions, and semi-public green space are incorporated into the new addition’s design.

A large, vertical window on the Chestnut façade mimics the proportions of a steeple, signaling sacred space inside. Vertical slit windows on the western wall of the chapel offer a modern interpretation of stained glass windows, visible from within and highlighted on the western façade. By removing obstructions such as exterior lighting that obscured exterior views of the church’s stained glass windows, the Gratz Center frames and highlights the historically significant original architecture.

The Commons, a central meeting space and corridor that links the Gratz Center to the original church and highlights the relationship between old and new. Every detail of the Gratz Center is the result of countless in-depth interviews led by the design team and real-time feedback from the people who use the building. Architects, interior designers, Church administrators, parishioners and community members all had a hand in crafting the final project, a building that has been described to fit its community like a bespoke suit.

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