First Congregational United Church of Christ

Location: Washington, DC
Date of Completion: 2011
Program: Space for Worship
Size: 23,500 SF Interior
Sustainability: LEED Gold
Awards: 2015 AIA Virgina Architecture Merit Award, 2013 The Committee of 100 on the Federal City Vision Award
Photographer: Michael Moran

The First Congregational United Church of Christ was founded in 1865 by Abolitionists in Washington, DC on a corner site located at 10th and G Streets, just a few blocks from the White House. It has continued this tradition of an involvement in issues of social justice. In 2006, the congregation, needing funds and a new and more efficient facility, sold their site to a developer. The Church’s new home occupies the first two floors of a mixed use structure designed by Cunningham & Quill Architects. We were responsible for the exterior envelope and interior of the first two levels which included a sanctuary, chapel, administrative offices and social rooms.

The Church serves the congregation and acts as a community center. The sanctuary, at the heart of the project, is an uplifting place of gathering. A substantial transfer beam permits a column-free, double-height space. Floors are limestone; walls are paneled in ash veneer. The custom fabricated plywood uses 100% of the ash veneer, including the darker heartwood so the paneling has a distinctive irregular pattern. The ceiling holds a constellation of light fixtures. Custom designed furnishings include fixed benches and moveable seating to accommodate varied programming from worship services to film screenings. The pipes from the organ are hidden behind a white gauze scrim. An etched glass volume brings light into a solid corner of the sanctuary. 

The tranquility of the interior belies the challenge of placing an open and light filled space beneath an office building. To mediate between the reflective glass-clad offices above and the neighboring Mies van der Rohe library, a dark grey brick with a variegated texture was selected for the Church exterior. Large windows at street level welcome passersby. A white, cast bronze-clad column transcends its structural function to become a signal for the entry. Two projecting glass boxes suggest the Sanctuary and the Chapel within. By day, the volumes bring light inside and by night they are great lanterns, glowing from within.

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