“American Gothic”
With Pier Paolo Tamburelli
A Methodist church in Clyde, Ohio

See also
01 Vimeo
02 Midstory
03 Midstory
04 GSD

If you talk to enough pastors in Ohio, you’ll become familiar with the refrain, ‘we just can’t compete with those Big Box Churches down the road’. This reflects a migration of younger Christians to unaffiliated or evangelical churches which forgo the traditions, ceremonial and architectural, of the Mainline denominations such as Methodist, Presbyterian, or Baptist. These “start-up churches” occupy storefronts, gymnasiums, theaters, warehouses, nightclubs. Such a trend might represent a schism between spiritual practice and architectural typology. So what is it about this Big Box anyway? The Clyde Methodist Church inherits the Big Box as an architectural vocabulary for projecting a contemporary state of Methodism and a contemporary State of Ohio.

The church is a square in plan, across from city hall and on axis with its entrance, rotated 45 degrees, as if to deflect any traditional correspondence between the two buildings. The building is clad in a reflective corrugated aluminum, reflecting the sky and city hall and lend a familiar, if not industrial, materiality to the abstract form.

The organization of the ground floor is rational and relatively austere, dividing between small, medium, and extra-large spaces. The overhead armature is the inverse – generous cylindrical chambers of light, dissociated with the economical logic of the plan. These two realms, profane and the sacred, the accessible and the inaccessible, are disjointed by the ceiling plane at 9 feet above finish floor. 

The two overhead chambers delineate two distinct spaces not through partitions or visual separation but rather with overhead space and different qualities of light. The bifurcation of the main sanctuary reflects the reality of weekly service in Clyde, Ohio being rather small, with only the occasional service expanding to take over the whole sanctuary floor. The north chamber is the ritual space – a tall and bright space over the altar and choir along with fixed pews. The south chamber has movable chairs, a lower ceiling, and a north-facing clerestory, providing flexible space for more community oriented events. 

The box is crowned by two tower-slabs. The north tower-slab is mostly hollow, rather, full of light and empty space, above the altar, side chapel, and prayer room. The south tower slab is packed with public programs – classrooms, a dining hall, a library, rehearsal space, prayer rooms, etc. The tower-slabs establish vertical civic surfaces, upon which banners are hung, movies may be projected, a serrated image of life in Clyde reflects back at itself. The tower-slabs position themselves to establish a traditional sense of monumentality, proclaiming significance through size and presence.

Some ecclesiastical references