Beautiful color rendering of Faith Lutheran Church by Obryon & Knapp.  This image is found today on the church website.

Beautiful color rendering of Faith Lutheran Church by Obryon & Knapp.  This image is found today on the church website.

In 1957 Faith Lutheran Church designed by E. John Knapp won an award in the category of institutional design from the West Michigan Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.   The color rendering above by Obryon and Knapp illustrates the organic nature of the building which appears to grow naturally from the elevated site.    

Faith Lutheran Church was the first church E. John Knapp designed in Grand Rapids.  It was built in two stages of construction. During the planning phase the building committee agreed that most people in that area (Fuller and Three Mile) would drive to church.  Therefore the building entrances were located at back of the church off the parking lot and not on the street side.   

The structure with the wooden cross at the peak was built first and the upper floor was the temporary church and the lower level was the temporary Sunday school.  About five years later the second phase was completed and became the permanent sanctuary and the first stage became the Sunday School.  The tall tower between the buildings was the chimney for the furnace.  They added a beautiful wooden cross on the side.  

The church used Knapp's trademark modular system Knapp of walls consisting of 4x8 panels or windows.   The architect especially likes this church because the north and south walls of the sanctuary were almost all glass.  The building committee understood "that we were designing a building where the membership could see that they were part of the world instead of hiding inside a building.  The world could also see what was going on inside."   The windows fit within the modular system and were stationary plate glass panels or smaller pop-out windows for air movement.  Some were white painted insulated panels.  The first unit didn't have any colored glass in the peak but the second one did.  It appears that the original glass was changed later on to the three large white glass crosses. 

Along the entire back of the building facing the parking lot was a long 16-foot wide corridor built in the modular design that connected the two buildings.  So parents could walk down the corridor to pick up their children from Sunday school.  It was a reception area as well as a corridor.  People gathered there before and after church.  

According to Knapp, after they built the first unit, by the second year they were already overcrowded.  It was an attractive building and attracted people.  The building committee had purchased enough land for both stages of the building and the parking lot.  Not many people realize a parking lot should be a least twice as large as the floor plan area of a church. The committee had purchased enough land.  It was also big enough to store snow in the winter!    An early photo of the church (1957) shows the multi-level building with a flat roofed canopy and entry way leading from the parking lot into a beautiful vestibule faced with glass window walls using Knapp's trademark module design.

This current photo demonstrates that most of the the integrity of the design has been preserved.  A gable roof has replaced the flat roof of the protective canopy.

This early photo of the sanctuary illustrates the steep and dramatic angle of the beams that pierce the glass and extend to the ground outside.   Notice the wonderful pendant lamps and the iconic mid-century planters that frame the seating area front and back. Everyone has a great view of the outside.  Truly it is a sanctuary where nature is a integral component in the space.

Early model of the building clearly shows these beams - think modern reference to a Gothic buttress. 

In this current photo of the south side of the building there is a sheltering brick wall with opening and vertical brick columns separate the banks of windows.  Notice the partial metal roof.

Early model of the building.

Interestingly like many mid-century century structures, the window views are toward what one might consider the back - the parking lot - and sides of the building.  This current photo shows what I think of as the front of the building - a triangle-shaped solid brick wall on the north section (I keep thinking of pyramid when I look at it) and a two-sided projecting wall in solid brick on the north section.  These face Fuller Avenue NE.