Architects who design buildings for a city center must often contend with a lack of one thing that’s far more available in the suburbs. That precious commodity is space. And it becomes even more of a challenge when the building in question is a house of worship.
Think about some of the enormous sprawling churches, synagogues and mosques you’ve seen. It would be hard to squeeze one of them in to a neighborhood like the Chicago Loop. But Harry Weese & Associates pulled off the trick neatly with the design of the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist at 55 E. Wacker Drive.
The church was one of the 200 architectural curiosities open to the public during the 2015 edition of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago.
Weese had to figure out a way to shoehorn the church into an extremely odd-shaped, six-sided plot of land. Not only was he up to the task, the building includes some ingenious space-saving features.
One of those is a sunken garden, just below the façade along Lower Wacker Drive. The lower level of the church actually is under the sidewalk, and its unique design offers visitors a peaceful setting where the sounds of the city are far removed.
Structurally, the building is held together with steel trusses clad in Travertine marble, which supports the roof.
Inside the lobby, which doubles as a reading room, visitors will see another significant feature: a 200-foot piece of Travertine marble. The look and feel of the church, inside and out, was specifically designed to create a friendly, yet sacred place.
Within the sanctuary, at the alter there’s an Aeolian Skinner pipe organ, one of two in Chicago. In addition to handling the building’s design, Harry Weese wanted just the right organ, so he searched far and wide to find this massive 3,500-pipe instrument.