BNIM, the recipient of the 2011 AIA National Firm Award, designed the Christian Life Center (CLC) hoping that each resident experiences and appreciates the intended qualities of the building—quiet, embracing, community, individuality, nature, frugality, environmental responsibility, stewardship, authenticity and unique beauty. The design team envisions the building contributing to the success of men entering the program.
Project description, images, and drawings following the break.
Renewing and nurturing the physical and spiritual beings of men in need is the purpose of the CLC. Men entering this program spend an entire year within the walls of this new facility. The program is a serious commitment, where the men exchange their former lifestyles for one of disciplined daily routine that is designed to help each achieve individual grow. The CLC is committed to providing an environment that is welcoming, nurturing, respectful, stewarding and comfortable for each individual and the CLC community.
The architecture has a role in helping each man’s journey succeed. Each individual has a unique beauty, and it was the design team’s intention to create an environment for the men that would reflect that beauty and evoke a welcoming presence and protective warmth. It was important that the design be appreciated slowly; just as the journey for these men is slow and deliberate, the architecture should follow.
The CLC facility operates as a self-contained home for the men in the program. On the ground floor, they share community spaces for daily activities that build self-esteem, physical health, employment skills and spiritual relationships. Sleeping spaces, showers and lounge areas occupy the second floor.
Given the issues of each individual, the CLC community and the connection to the outside world, the dynamics of privacy and community within the facility are complex, and strongly influenced the building’s and site’s design. Balancing community and privacy required sensitivity due to the location of the site’s surroundings. The new facility is situated in a neglected neighborhood near the urban core, making the creation of a safe and healthy environment paramount. The location and environmental conditions of the immediate surroundings—transient population, urban noise, light pollution, security and other externalities–suggested to the design team that a secure, quiet, heavy and internally focused building would best serve the needs of the CLC.
The architecture responds to its context with a heavy protective public shell and a tactile and lighter private realm. The public facades are load bearing masonry walls with modest fenestration delineating public and private spaces. The composite masonry is normally bricked over CMU. In specific areas the burnished CMU structure is exposed revealing the authentic structure—a nod towards the self-realization process of the men during their stay at CLC. The courtyard and south walls are skinned in a rain screen system utilizing salvaged wood siding with generous windows providing visual connectivity, thermal comfort, ventilation and effective daylighting for the adjacent interior spaces.
The building form is a compact two-story structure organized around an internal courtyard and second floor roof terraces. Programmatic spaces include a dormitory, living area, classrooms, recreation rooms, and administrative offices. A large- multi-purpose space is used for dining, recreation and worship. The courtyard organization proved to be an appropriate bio-climatic approach for achieving overall comfort, sustainability and efficiency. Every space and bed is afforded natural light and ventilation, resulting in the need for only modest electric lighting and geo-thermal mechanical systems.
Interior finishes are purposefully simple and restrained. Where appropriate, structural systems are left without additional finishes or limited to sealants for protection or to ease cleaning. Finishes include recycled wood and other sustainable products that contribute to the overall vision as a place of health and well being in all aspects of the men’s lives. The floor and roof structure were deliberately selected to maintain the protective enclosure, isolating the interior from the urban environment. Hollow core concrete planks were selected in lieu of lighter wood or steel options to ensure that quiet conditions could be maintained throughout all periods of the day.
The site design includes public and private realms and incorporates a variety of sustainable features and is a showcase for urban stormwater management. The small site includes three bioretention cells that accept all of the roof’s run-off and there is no stormwater connection to the City’s sewer system. Indigenous plant materials that require low-maintenance have been integrated throughout the site. Hidden from view are the geo-thermal wells and the recycled water storage tanks, which hold filtered water from the showers for use in toilet flushing.
BNIM’s intention was to embody a deep sense of timeless beauty within the building—a beauty beyond sensory perception that is derived from inspired architecture and a connection to nature. The building embraces triple bottom line goals. It is responsible to all inhabitants of the building, both residents and employees. It embodies sustainable design intentions that are achieved through careful integration of the programmatic needs and design responses by all disciplines and systems. Financial responsibility for this organization is a given. The building strives to be frugal and use resources very sparingly a benefit that reaches well beyond the site and will have lasting impact for years to come.