AVL + Aesthetics in Design

No denying, there’s a lot to consider during a renovation or design of a church. And to create a modern experience, installing a state-of-the-art audio, video and lighting scheme is critical to get the message across.

Nathan C. Daniel, AIA, principal and faith practice leader for LS3P, Charlotte, N.C., says large LED screens in lieu of projectors have become a current visual component trend.

Among other trends, Daniel notes that more often than not, both the house and theatrical lighting within a worship center and sanctuary are a single package delivered by an AVL designer to maximize flexibility and to provide better control of the experience.

Ronald E. Geyer, architect and principal for Good City Architects LLC in Greenville, S.C., notes that Good City recently completed its first design that incorporates a video wall rather than a simple array of 4-9 display screens, and he expects that to be a big trend going forward.

Tom Greenwood, AIA, director of faith-based design for The Beck Group in Dallas sees a growing design trend to integrate the technology into the architecture of buildings.

“With the advancement of LED technology and the lowering of its price point, it’s allowing more creative ways to incorporate screens or walls for video projection,” he says. “Church leaders are also seeing more value in expressing the architecture and building materials of the room for a more authentic experience, rather than just a technology-driven experience.”

Getting started

When starting any project, the first conversation between the architect, AVL designer and integrator should identify the vision and AVL expectation within the room; listening to what the church needs.

“An extension to this conversation is understanding the budget, schedule and strategic planning between the architect, AVL team and electrical engineer to ensure a successful project,” Daniel says. “This needs to be an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

Greenwood notes that the architect and AVL designers need to clearly understand the expectations of the worship experience from the point of view of the communicator (pastor), worship leader and congregation.

“Each represents very different perspectives and may imagine very different experiences,” he says. “Too often just one view dominates, which leads to a room and technology design that only represents one viewpoint of worship. The architect and AVL consultants are there to listen and create an environment that supports what makes a church’s worship experience unique.” Geyer says that the conversation should always address room acoustics.

“Much of what makes a room work well acoustically is embedded in a room’s volume, mass, and surface configuration, and can’t be fixed later, only masked.” Ronald E. Geyer, Architect & Principal, Good City Architects LLC, Greenville, SC

“Because they’re often called late to the game, the assumption seems to be that the AVL designer will ‘fix’ the room as well as the communication systems,” he says. “Much of what makes a room work well acoustically is embedded in a room’s volume, mass, and surface configuration, and can’t be fixed later, only masked. Our acoustics professor taught us that sound absorptive panels—the go-to solution—aren’t a fix. They’re simply a way to turn down the volume of noise you hadn’t already controlled.”

The art of the hide

Both contemporary and traditional churches present different challenges to accommodate AVL within their buildings that the design team must understand.

“Whether traditional or contemporary, each church brings a different set of AVL expectations that the design team must identify and execute,” Daniel says. “This is what makes each design process unique and exciting.”

For instance, in many traditional worship spaces, the design looks to “hide” these components as to not detract aesthetically from the architecture and the setting. This happens with establishing a clear vision for these heavy-AVL spaces that the team has bought into, balanced with a culture of communication between the architect, the AVL team and the general contractor to ensure that the performance and aesthetics are achieved.

As long as you plan for something like this at the beginning and coordinate room design ideas early with the AVL system consultants, Greenwood notes that synergy is not difficult to achieve.

“Video can integrate seamlessly into wall designs, particularly with LED technology, and stage lighting positions can be creatively hidden in ceiling and wall design features.” Tom Greenwood, AIA, Director of Faith-Based Design, The Beck Group, Dallas, TX

“Video can integrate seamlessly into wall designs, particularly with LED technology, and stage lighting positions can be creatively hidden in ceiling and wall design features,” he says. “The most challenging often are audio systems, because of multiple components that can require very unique locations because of room shape and acoustics.”

Sometimes it takes a combined strategy for audio systems, including hiding some components and coloring other components to make them blend into the room’s appearance.

Churches wanting a more modern design typically didn’t mind the technology being exposed, especially when those churches had the one-time standard black-box design. But this trend is beginning to wane.

“If the church wants to bring natural light into the room, which is happening more and more, there seems to be [a greater] desire to better integrate the technology into the architecture,” Greenwood says.

Although there are exceptions, some of the most important events in the life of a church— weddings, funerals, intimate assemblies​—don’t require video display. Still, the display components can be visually demanding to deal with in design.

“We can employ expensive techniques like sliding or hinged panels, or pantographs or rollers, to hide or move [display components],” Geyer says. “Better yet is to find a way to make them seem like they belong. We’ve used highly reflective paint on plaster walls for churches that aren’t built around video. I’d like to see more use of vertical (portrait) orientation in vertically oriented spaces, but planning for it is an extra step for short-staffed or volunteer-run AVL teams.”

AVL in action

Midland Bible Church asked Beck to design its new campus, which included a sanctuary to support its contemporary worship, with the use of video and also the use of natural light in the space. The design incorporated high windows in the worship room, and a cupola at the top of the space.

“The windows were covered by deep roof overhangs, which allowed continuous but controlled light into the room,” Greenwood says. “Rear projection video was used to reduce the impact of ambient room light. Audio systems and stage lighting were carefully studied and incorporated into the exposed large steel trusses that support the roof.”

In addition, automatic window shades were provided for all the windows, though they have rarely been used because of the successful coordination and design of the space and AVL systems, Greenwood reports.

First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Ga., occupies two city blocks in in historic downtown Augusta. And it has bucked this trend for downtown churches: growing by adding young families. The centerpiece of the church’s site and culture is the 200-year-old sanctuary designed by architect Robert Mills (designer of the Washington Monument).

Good City Architects LLC did renovations on the sanctuary in 2013, performing updated finishes including the application of acoustical wall panels that match the color and configuration of existing plaster walls; exposing original wood floors under the congregation to reinforce congregational singing; removal of an earlier system of fixed choir risers to allow more versatile use of the platform; introducing instrument “garages” to allow quick change from organ console to drum kit; and integrating projection screens with organ show pipe surrounds.

LS3P’s Faith Studio recently completed the design drawings for both Seacoast Church (contemporary worship) in Mount Pleasant, S.C., and Falls Church Anglican (traditional worship) in West Falls Church, Va. Both feature state-of-the-art rooms, but each has its own vision, goal and aesthetic.

“It is critical to get all of the stakeholders on board early to understand the church’s vision for the room, manage the budget, identify schedule concerns, and minimize challenges during construction.” Nathan C. Daniel, AIA, Principal & Faith Practice Leader, LS3P, Charlotte, NC

“It is critical to get all of the stakeholders on board early to understand the church’s vision for the room, manage the budget, identify schedule concerns, and minimize challenges during construction,” Daniel says. “Ultimately, the foundational success of these complex projects relies on listening and establishing an intentional communication process.”

AVL + Aesthetics in Design by Keith Loria first appeared at Church.Design on April 3o, 2018. Keith Loria is a full-time freelance writer focusing on business and design issues. He can be reached at

Advent UMC Groundbreaking

Advent United Methodist Church celebrated the groundbreaking of its new sanctuary Sunday afternoon, about 13 months after a fire destroyed its old building.

“We’re very excited about this transition to move forward. We can’t wait to see things happening, to see the structure go up, and more importantly than that, a year from now we’ll hopefully be moving into our new sanctuary so we’ll be able to welcome more people and make a bigger impact in our community,” said Senior Pastor Michael Turner.

The congregation gathered in the front parking lot after their worship service to pray and to celebrate a new beginning.

Turner said the fire and the first steps of the rebuilding process have brought the congregation together.

“Over and over, throughout history, God has proven that he carries us through the most difficult times. He’s made it his business to bring light out of darkness and hope out of despair,” Turner said. “It was difficult to watch it burn, but it has been incredible to see God carry us through this and see his faithfulness in the process.”

Turner said the fire was just another reminder that the church is not a building, it’s the people.

The story, “Simpsonville church celebrates groundbreaking more than a year after fire”, from which this post is excepted, was produced by Jenni Knight, and first appeared at March 18, 2018

Summit Church building in Simpsonville

Summit Church has approved the design for renovations and construction of a new campus at 603 West Curtis Street in Simpsonville. The project, designed by Good City Architects of Greenville, S.C., will serve as the combined campus for the current Mauldin and Simpsonville locations of Summit Church.

“The goal of this project is to provide expanded space to serve the communities of Mauldin and Simpsonville and continue intentionally equipping followers of Jesus to live as missionary disciples among the places we live,” said Jason Malone, pastor of Summit Church. “This construction will allow Summit to almost double the space we now have to serve those communities.”

Summit Church launched in September 2007 and now has five congregations across the Upstate. The newly renovated and constructed facility will provide space for 500 to gather for worship, space for teaching nearly 100 preschool and elementary age children and an open gathering area to help welcome attendees into the facility. A small courtyard in front of the building, connected to sidewalk improvements planned by the City of Simpsonville, will provide space for church activities and use by the community.

Summit Church places a distinct focus on church planting, and leaders wanted a space that could be used as a model for future congregations Summit will start across the ten Upstate counties by 2030.

“Good City Architects helped us see our mission, values and distinctives as an integral part of the project, while providing a space that is both functional and reproducible,” added Malone.

Heartwood Constructors of Greer is the general contractor. The project is expected to be completed in 2019.

To learn more about Summit Church, visit

Advent Stronger After Fire

Changes are coming to Advent United Methodist Church. Over the next year and a half, the church plans to build a new sanctuary that will connect to its education building. But that wasn’t the original plan. Advent, which sits on a large plot of land on Woodruff Road a little over a mile from Five Forks, was working on a major renovation of its older buildings and construction of a smaller building to connect the sanctuary with the education building.

Then, 10 months ago, a massive fire destroyed the sanctuary.

On Feb. 8, 2017, Pastor Michael Turner watched as firefighters from multiple departments spent hours trying to extinguish flames as they ripped through the roof of the building.

The sanctuary was not in use at the time, due to the ongoing renovation project. Worship services had been moved to a gym on the back of the property, and no one was inside the sanctuary when the fire started.

Turner described the powerful emotions he felt as he stood on the lawn with dozens of church members and neighbors. “Of course, there was the grief of realizing that a space (was gone) that housed so many memories: baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, as well as other powerful experiences with God and each other,” Turner said. “But also there was the gut punch of realizing that the expansion, renovation and building plans that had required so much thought, time and energy were likely going to have to be tossed.”

A large wooden cross was hanging in the front windows of the sanctuary during the fire. Turner and parishioners assumed it would be destroyed, but after the fire, crews cut the cross down to find it had survived mostly unscathed, apart from some char marks.

For Turner, it was symbolic of the Advent UMC community.

Turner said the morning after the fire, a group of volunteers continued its weekly mission of packing backpacks full of food for children in area elementary schools. The church also maintained its partnerships with ministries in Tanzania, Guatemala and Cuba, and its support of families living in houses purchased with Advent’s Christmas Eve offerings.

“From the first flames, our refrain was that the church is not a building,” Turner said. “Our building was destroyed, but our church is stronger than ever, and that was obvious as we reflected on what happened during and immediately after the fire.”

Turner said the Upstate community’s support made a huge difference as well. “Although the words seem inadequate, thank you. The calls, letters, cards, offers for space and monetary donations were all a part of the ways that our community loved us during that time,” he said.

And they intend to pay it forward. Turner said the goal is to continue contributing to the community and making it a better place to live.

The church is now looking ahead. Turner said Advent’s ministry and mission efforts, both global and local, are continuing, though some of them look a little different for the time being. The construction team has said the congregation will be able to celebrate in its new, larger sanctuary building, about a year and a half after the original project’s expected completion date.

Until then, they’ll continue to worship in the gym under the charred cross that serves as a visual reminder of what the church has been through. Turner said they won’t repair it. “We don’t want to refinish it, because we want to remember the origin of our hope in that tough time.”

Pastor: Advent UMC stronger after devastating fire by Elizabeth LaFleur, first appeared in the Greenville News December 25, 2017.

Talatha Baptist Church adds new building to accommodate growing services

Talatha Baptist Church is currently a construction site, as the church is adding a multipurpose building to accommodate its growth.  The building will be used as a fellowship hall and sanctuary, along with a lobby, kitchen and restrooms. The weekly Sunday congregation is growing at Talatha Baptist, and some were having to sit in an overflow room to watch and hear the sermon. The Rev. Jordan Bird added that longtime members were giving up seats for guests at services.  Along with new worship space, the church also needed a fellowship hall. Bird said when the church has meals, they have been accommodating people wherever they could: indoors, outdoors and in classrooms.

“It makes sense, and it’s going to meet our needs at a reasonable cost,” Jordan said about the new addition.

He said a lot of churches build gyms when they need to expand but then added that many churches build their gyms and then try to hide them; that the building is never really a multipurpose building, just a gym you can do other things in.

Before building anything, Talatha brought in an architect to discuss what was needed and to lay out the church and where the new building should go.  Ron Geyer, architect and principal at Good City Architects, helped bring Talatha’s vision to fruition. Good City Architects works exclusively with ministries.

“What they want is to do ministry better,” Geyer said.

He said it was important to Talatha to be honest about its Southern roots, and that the church had a strategy in mind but changed direction after meeting with him.

“They’re not changing what they’re about. They’re changing how they present it to the community,” Geyer said.

The new building is going to change the direction the front doors of the church face. Bird said the change will give a “new face” to the church.

“We ended up putting it in an unusual place,” Bird said about the building. “Most people wouldn’t have anything in front of their sanctuary closer to the main road.  That’s just not a thing that you do. It sort of communicates that you devalue the worship place, the sanctuary, but since this building is sanctuary space, what we did, we really just changed the direction of (the) front.”

The current sanctuary at Talatha holds around 175 people. The new building will seat around 300. There won’t be pews in the new building rather chairs that can be moved around or stored.

Talatha Baptist Church is one of the oldest churches in Aiken County. The original building was built around 1840. That building is eventually going to be moved to an area of the church’s property that makes it more visible.

Old Talatha Sanctuary“It’s about reminding us that we’re still the same little church believing the same gospel and the same God that that group of people 200 years ago believed when they started it here,” Bird said. “So it keeps us anchored in the unchanging timeless truth.

“You start to think that we all have this ability to become, how do you say, chronological snobs or historical snobs thinking that we’re better than the people that came before us and we’re not.”

Talatha Baptist Church is growing right now because it is sticking to what it knows. Bird said the church’s philosophy is “don’t change anything and go with it.”

“Simple verse and scripture from Romans chapter 10 says ‘Faith comes by hearing,’ so we are simply preaching scripture directly as it wants to be preached itself and sharing the gospel with our neighbors, telling them what Jesus has done,” he said.

The article “Talatha Baptist Church adds new building to accommodate growing services” by Lindsey Hodges first appeared in the Aiken Standard ( on September 3, 2017


Tryon Construction Begins

Workers from Clayton Construction are laying out the foundation for new bathrooms and a lobby enclosure at Tryon Presbyterian Church’s sanctuary.

Summer has been busy at the church campus, as the team works to complete the new building. The church sanctuary was donated by Frank McGregor in 1958 and designed by local architects Shannon Meriweather and Holland Brady. Its design included nautical references that honored McGregor’s sister, who died at sea en route to France while serving with the American Red Cross during World War I.

The new project is intended to preserve much of the original design. Good City Architects’ design will simplify the platform to allow greater flexibility, update finishes and lighting and improve access for members and visitors. The church plans to have construction complete in the fall.

This article appeared in the Tryon Daily Bulletin August 3, 2017.

Talatha Addition Under Construction

Talatha Baptist Church, in Aiken, SC, has begun construction of a new multipurpose building and expanded space for worship and children. The new space, designed by Good City Architects, an architecture and interior design firm based in Greenville, S.C., is part of the master plan developed by Good City last fall. It will create a new entrance for the Church, and include room for both worship and fellowship. Clifton Construction of Evans, Ga. has begun construction, which they expect to complete later this year.

The Southern Baptist congregation occupies about seven acres on Talatha Church Road and has enjoyed significant growth in the last few years. Talatha, founded in 1827, is one of the oldest churches in the Aiken Baptist Association and has been meeting at the current location since 1839.

“The Talatha congregation has greatly benefited from working closely with Good City Architects as God guides and grows our church,” said Jordan Bird, pastor. “We are enjoying watching building begin and are excited about how we can serve God and our community through our facilities.”

Buying Construction

A manufacturer of metal structures is selling buildings on our local radio stations, promising them for $50 a square foot. One can only imagine what the fine print or, for that matter, the building, includes. This may be the right choice for some, but how you buy a building – or hire a contractor – can and should match your organizations’ priorities.

The American Institute of Architects and The Associated General Contractors of America outline the primary options in a Primer on Project Delivery published in 2004:

  • The Design-Bid-Build method, sometimes thought of as “traditional” method, engages the three primary participants – Owner, Architect, and Contractor – through separate  and sequential contracts. Architect (and engineers) working for the Owner, prescriptive contract documents, upon which contractors base competitive, lump sum bids. The lowest (or in some cases “best value”) bid wins the bidder a contract for construction with the Owner.
  • In the Design-Build approach, a consolidated entity (the “Design-Builder”) provides both design and construction services to the owner. The design-build effort can be led by either the Architect or Contractor.
  • Construction Management at Risk [which include most “negotiated ” or “partnered ” projects] recognizes that contractors act as both builders and contract managers. The Contractor (who is the “CM@R”) is engaged early in the design period. Architect and Contractor have separate contracts with the Owner, and as the Architect develops the design, the Contractor weights in on cost, constructability, and cost issues. Near the end of the design period, the Contractor “guarantees” a maximum price for the project.

Comparison Shopping

The Design-Bid-Build method offers the greatest control over the final product, but with greater risk to cost and schedule. We like this one least. It’s a political process, designed to signal fairness – not to get the best price. (Hence its heavy use by governments.) The bid process incentivizes participants to interpret ambiguity in their favor and look for increases later. Gray turns to green. In so doing, it tends to create an adversarial environment. It also operates on a kind of cynicism, suggesting that the only effective reason for fairness is self-interest. The best contractors don’t like or need this kind of work and, if they have a choice, will avoid it.

Deciding to use a design-build contractor, of which the metal building peddlar first mentioned is the worst kind, communicates that cost is the pre-eminent issue. For some of us this may be the case, and it’s a good choice as long as we recognize that in doing so a great deal of control over the final product is surrendered. The designer now works for the builder, not for you. For the contractor, time spent with the Owner is a cost to be minimized. To the extent that the design-build contractor offers control of the product to the owner, much of the cost advantage dissipates.

In our experience, hiring a construction manager at risk offers a good balance of control for design and budget. The selection process usually involves looking at qualifications and interviews, but can result in a good match of values and personalities. Concerns about cost are answered by transparency and, if necessary, bidding at the subcontractor level. Since the Contractor is on the same “side ” of the table as the Owner, it’s in everyone’s interest to share the numbers ahead of time. Beware the builder who, under this scenario, fails to show how the cost is calculated.

We’ve used all three, and some others besides. If the right players are involved, the structure of the relationship doesn’t matter much. Nor does it matter much if the wrong players are on the team. You can’t make a “bad” Contractor (or Architect) “good” by choosing the right contract. But how you buy your buildings can – and should – communicate your church’s priorities.

Potty Talk

Have you ever turned to leave a public restroom and realized you were going to grab a handle crawling with critters? You’re not wrong. A Soap and Detergent Association and American Society for Microbiology study showed 34 percent of men and 12 percent of women don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. If visitors to your church have the same concerns, those misgivings may bias or amplify questions about you and your ministry.

If the room is clean, is bigger than it has to be, or has some special touch like a flower on the counter, they’ll often decide that we know how to do things right and be open to learning more about us. If they have a bad experience, we’ll never get a second chance.

A successful real estate developer once told me that “bathrooms are more important to sales than the showroom. A family often stops at our place just to give themselves a break and look around. If the restroom is clean, is bigger than it has to be, or has some special touch like a flower on the counter, they’ll often decide that we know how to do things right and be open to learning more about us. If they have a bad experience, we’ll never get a second chance.”

In response to concerns about hygiene, resourceful people have invented “pinky pulls”, handles that can be operated with an elbow, automatic door openers, foot pedals, and sprayers that disinfect the handle on a regular basis. But there are simpler ways to get bathrooms right. Here are a “handful”.

Door Swings. Seems obvious, but apparently it’s not: swing doors outward, or in the case of separate entrances and exits, in the same direction as the path of travel. This allows occupants to push with coat sleeves or elbows to avoid contact with the hardware.

Gender Inequality. Truth is, women do more stuff and take longer to do it. There’s really no excuse for providing the same number of fixtures for each.

One-Way Traffic. In the case of large restrooms, consider designing for one-way traffic by providing entrances and exits. Because of the differences in fixture numbers required for women and men, I sometimes wrap the women’s restroom around the men’s room. Easing traffic can have nearly as big an effect on wait time as adding fixtures.

Crunch Time. Demand for restrooms will be greater with multiple services or sessions. With a single session, participants sometimes “go” before or after, and do so at home or wherever they’re headed next. Just like at the theatre, there’ll be a big rush in a short period of time if you have an intermission.

Sight Lines. Think about what can be seen from the hallway with the door open. It’s amazing how many layouts offer scenic views of the urinals from the lobby (and vice versa). It’s best to imagine what things would look like if there were no door, since a moving screen doesn’t offer much comfort to occupants. Arrange the room to avoid straight-shot views of sinks or stalls and to avoid inappropriate views reflected in vanity mirrors.

European Stalls. We’ve only tested it once, but consider using European type stalls that include both water closet and lavatory in a full-height enclosure. The difference in space is less than you think and the increase in privacy is significant.

Changing Tables. Provide changing tables in both men’s and women’s restrooms. Daddy does diapers, too.

Family Toilets. Consider including a “Family Toilet.” (Some Building Codes now require it.) These are essentially unisex handicapped toilets in addition to the usual single gender facilities. They’re not a political statement. They allow Mommies to help young sons, Daddies to help little daughters, and older couples to assist each other.

Shelving. If you encourage people at your church to carry Bibles or take notes, provide shelves over the urinals and over tankless water closets. Toilet accessory manufacturers make standard units, but anything will do. In the worst case scenario, provide a common place to pile things at the entrance. I like the idea of a shelf just above the vanity, too. Water and soap on counters can damage books, paper and purses.

Grout. Don’t use white or light colored grout between tiles. If you do, it won’t stay that way long. Might as well do it on purpose.

Image from

Church Renovation Creates Warm Welcome

Standing in the parking lot of Taylors First Baptist Church, it is evident why Dr. Paul Jimenez is excited about the recent addition to the sprawling property at 200 West Main Street in Taylors.

Under his leadership, the Church, which just celebrated its 15o-­year anniversary, opened its newly renovated welcome center on December 4th, a space between the main sanctuary and other resource rooms and offices. It hadn’t been updated in 20 years.

The goal of creating an identifiable welcome space for visitors and a meeting and information hub for the con­gregation was accomplished and more, according to the pastor.

“I’m just thrilled and I think it has accomplished all that we wanted it to accomplish, but it’s done in such a beautiful way,” he said. “As our people are engaging in the lives of other people, we want to create an environment where people are welcomed.”

The road to renovations began more than a year ago when church leadership began accepting contributions and, though initially short of its original goal, the church secured a design with the help of Good City Architects, an architecture and interior design firm in the city. On the outside, trees were removed to create a more open walkway. Inside, interior walls were knocked down and carpet was removed to make for a more open space.

But with every monetary decision, there are opinions on where to best allocate funds. “The decision wasn’t unanimous, and some people said the space we had was functioning well, so why would it need to change?”

Still, Jimenez is proud of the ways the donations were used. While about 55 percent went to the construction of the center, he said 30 percent went to alleviate debt and 15 percent went to missions, with the church sending 415 people on mission trips in the past two years.

“The people of Taylors have given generously to create and expand its welcoming capacity to a facility that matches their heart,” he said. “You should see what it looks like on Sunday.”

“Church renovation creates a warm welcome” by Contributing Writer Tesalon Felicien first appeared in the Greater Greer News on December 28, 2016.