Awards of Excellence 2004 – Vancouver Chinese Evangelical Free Church

Vancouver, British Columbia

Acton Ostry Architects

The task of creating religious architecture within an urban environment is an obvious challenge, particularly in mediating between the sacred and the mundane. In the case of the Vancouver Chinese Evangelical Free Church, the setting is a banal, East Vancouver residential neighbourhood defined by rows of charmless “Vancouver Specials” and two major intersecting streets. The transitional sequence from an uninspiring external context to an internal one of communion and contemplation became the guiding principle.

The procession to the church requires the gradual removal from the urban to the peaceful compounds in which one can practice one’s faith. Situated on a corner lot, the church becomes a beckoning landmark in a low-rise landscape. Four tall buttressing elements of smooth white brick define the site and anchor the spaces of the building around a quiet central courtyard. The courtyard, ringed by a water feature that must be crossed in order to announce one’s “purified” arrival, establishes a place for restful reflection.

The sanctuary is offset from the grid of the church and surrounding context. The gesture signifies the sanctuary as the spiritual heart of the religious house and community. Natural light spills across the warm timber beams of the ceiling and over the congregation. The adjacent baptistry, a soaring double-height space, is lit from above with reflected blue light, articulating a unique identity and spiritual function.

Furthering the careful integration of daylight within the building, the programmatic elements are organized around the movement of the sun. Sunday school classrooms are oriented to receive the gentle morning rays, while the tall western faade shields the courtyard from the harsh afternoon light to ensure the space remains a sanctum at all times.

The Vancouver Chinese Evangelical Free Church draws a congregation of the faithful from wide across the Greater Vancouver region. The church is much more than a place of worship for the people, and is also a home for the community. The support spaces are not relegated to distant wings. On the contrary, the classrooms, offices and other such celebratory gathering spaces are given prominence around the courtyard. Youth activity spaces, such as the “Awana” multi-purpose room are situated adjacent to the sanctuary. The meticulously resolved plan reinforces the peaceful experience throughout the facility, as well as providing a sense of distance from the secular components of the facility.

Monteyne: The need to accommodate a complex human program on a tight urban property produces a compact form carved out and articulated to produce a meaningful progression from the profane to the sacred. Conventional building materials such as masonry used without decorative adornment provide unconventional ways of meeting the church’s iconographic needs.

Shnier: In pursuing a goal of reconciling a place of worship to its streetwise context, this project walks a carefully measured line between providing a mannered assembly of didactic spaces and a sober and robust urban enclave.

Yarinsky: The project creates its own context, a “field” of white brick, within which the special program spaces are seen and experienced.

Client: Chinese Evangelical Free Church

Architect team: Mark Ostry, Russell Acton, Javier Campos, Paul Crowley, Mike Leckie, Martin Liew, Gavin Mackenzie

Structural: Fast + Epp

Landscape: PWL Partnership Landscape Architects Inc.

Interiors: Acton Ostry Architects

Acoustical: BKL Consultants Ltd.

Transportation: N.D. Lea

Quantity Surveyor: BTY Group Ltd.

Area: 33,000 ft2

Budget: $6.8 million

Completion: autumn 2007