A lightning strike silenced the St. John’s Episcopal Church great organ on Good Friday, 2005. A further inspection of their sanctuary revealed outdated electrical and mechanical systems, a failing roof, and tarnished interior finishes. The cramped chancel and choir stalls with muffled acoustics provided a less-than-inspiring setting for the church’s active and energetic music program. With plans underway for restoration of the organ’s thousands of pipes, the time had come for a complete renovation of the 105-year-old nave.
Our goal in the restoration of the sanctuary was to provide a flexible, inspiring, and comfortable worship space with excellent accommodations for instrumental and choral music and the spoken word, while maintaining and enhancing the traditional architectural character and historic patina that characterizes the space the congregation loves.
Hughes Associates A&E, with the help of liturgical consultant Terry Byrd Eason, designed an enlarged chancel, providing space for a larger choir and flexible space for varied musical performances. The highly patterned floor in the chancel was extended with specially ordered tiles in red, black, and taupe to match the existing tiles. Wood ceilings were removed; foam insulation was added between the rafters; and new wood paneling matching the original profiles was installed. Aging wood pews were refurbished and strengthened.
While the space was gutted, new lighting, mechanical, security, and sound equipment was installed. A fire-resistant and soundproof mechanical room below the nave houses new HVAC units. The new lighting design, controlled by a state-of-the art electronic dimming system, highlights the architectural details of the space and provides flexibility for worship settings, as well as musical performances.
During the nine-month project, the chancel platform was doubled in size to include features that allow it to serve as both worship and musical performance spaces. Replacement of the floor and ceiling finishes improve room acoustics. New high-efficiency mechanical systems provide for better environmental control and comfort. Electrical and lighting upgrades not only save energy but also improve the quality of illumination while highlighting architectural features in the space.
The restored organ pipes are contained in newly created, cantilevered cases over the choir. After discovering the original color of the chancel beneath layers of paint, the rich green tint on the walls recreates the area’s original colors. A pattern of ecclesiastical symbols rendered in gold leaf adds richness and vitality to the surfaces while visually unifying the various elements of the space and focusing attention on the high altar.
The project received an award for Excellence in Architecture from AIA Blue Ridge.