Church Architecture

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church Renovation

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church Renovation Case Study By WDM Architects 1
Choir loft with new railing

Blessed Sacarament Catholic Church Renovation

In 2018, Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church turned their attention toward interior renovations. They had recently installed a new boiler system, and renovated the exterior by brick tuckpointing and roof replacement. Now, their goal was to make improvements that would enhance the Sunday Mass experience. Parishioner support to improve their failing organ became the catalyst to upgrade the church’s interior and acoustics.

The nearly 70-year-old Kilgen organ had been problematic for decades with sticking keys, dead notes from dry and cracked leather pouches and an outdated console that was in disrepair. The time had come to decide whether to completely replace the organ or have it thoroughly refurbished and updated. Additionally, the sanctuary’s absorptive walls, ceiling and a partial wall at the front of the choir loft exacerbated the poor acoustics by muffling the sound.

“We needed to tune the room to get the most out of our investment in the organ,” comments Matt Schindler, AIA, principal of WDM and parishioner at Blessed Sacrament.

Fundraising began and the project started development in July 2019.

Music to the Ears

The parish explored different options regarding the organ, from completely new to a more modest refurbishment. One possibility was high-end model with more instruments and an array of Festival Trumpets that would extend over the heads of parishioners. Eventually it was decided not to replace the organ, but to invest in a major overhaul.

The 17 ranks of original pipework were functional, but never meant to be seen. They were dismantled, shipped to Berghaus Organ Builders in Chicago for cleaning and tuning. The parish invested in seven additional ranks of beautiful pipes from Germany that are displayed in custom-built cases that flank the choir loft.

The new, state-of-the-art, electronic organ console uses stop-action magnets to replace the cracked and worn out leather pouches. The sound system was also updated with new microphones and speakers.

Avant Acoustics recommended using the right combination of reflective and absorptive surfaces to maximize the organ music. The recommendation was to retain the hard plaster surface for the center section of the ceiling for sound reflection. Then, on each side section of the ceiling, a seamless absorptive acoustical material called Acoustibuilt was installed. The installation of this specialized product was the first in Wichita and an Armstrong specialist was on-site to oversee its installation. Sonokote™, acoustically transparent paint coats the Acoustibuilt material to perfectly match the painted plaster on the ceiling.

The choir loft originally had a solid drywall railing that not only muffled the organ music and voices of the choir, but also was a safety concern because it was too short. Better sound projection into the church was accomplished by opening up the loft and replacing the half-wall with an open, brass metal railing. The railing design is based on the communion rail around the altar. Sound quality was further enhanced by surrounding the loft with reflective surfaces on the walls.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church Renovation Case Study By WDM Architects 2
Blessed Sacrament’s ceiling before renovation

Ceiling Beautification

Blessed Sacrament’s sanctuary had a flat, white 27-foot-high ceiling covered with sound-absorbing tiles. There was a desire to make the space feel more grand.

Historically, ornate cathedral ceilings instill a feeling of grandeur, and draw the eye upwards. Drawing inspiration from great cathedrals of Europe, WDM conceived of creating a ceiling that had more visual interest and also matched the scale of the room.

Working in cooperation with Father Andrew Heiman and various parish life committees, Schindler developed a ceiling design that segmented the expanse into a grid of deep decorative coffers. He based the pattern to align in a logical manner with existing stained glass windows. Additionally, plans for lighting centered pendants between windows so not to block them.

Renderings

Rendering a historical building is a different challenge than rendering one that has yet to be built. For his architectural rendering of Blessed Sacrament, Jason Harlan of WDM used the original blueprints from 1951 for reference.

Schindler went on-site and measured the church to confirm whether the building’s “as-built” measurements actually matched the blueprint specifications.

“In 160-foot brick wall, there was only an eighth of an inch of variation,” Schindler smiles. He credits the craftsmen back then for the quality of their work. “Everything is built to exact detail.”

By using the measurements on the prints, Harlan reconstructed it piece-by-piece digitally just as a carpenter would have to build it physically. He starts a base for the building in Revit software. In recreating Blessed Sacrament, Harlan also had to account for the way buildings were constructed 70 years ago, for instance, the walls are solid brick — red brick on the exterior and blonde inside, instead of a brick façade over wooden framework.

The windows on the church are “very intricate,” notes Harlan. Each has mullions of stone extrusions layered over a steel frame that hold twelve panes. Even the exterior stonework around the windows is unique. “This was before mass fabrication,” he says.

Once the window assemblies were built, Harlan took photographs of the actual stained glass windows at Blessed Sacrament and imported the photos into Revit, fitting each image like a film over the digital glass of a window assembly. He takes photos of the altar and other furnishings to accurately capture the details of the space for his renderings.

 

Lighting Details

Beautiful Craft Metal Lancaster series fixtures replace the former cove lighting in the sanctuary, creating a brighter space to accentuate the decorative ceiling. Eight, three-tiered pendant lights are paired to illuminate the center section and eight single pendants hang along the sides of the room. The energy-efficient lighting is well-placed to illuminate art, if it is installed in the ceiling at a later date.

Coordinating fixtures are found in the entry with coved lighting and recessed cans where needed for an overall brighter environment.

Sometimes manufacturers can provide digital 3D builds of their products like the Festival Trumpet assembly from Berghaus Organ Builders. However, not all manufacturers have that capability. If they do not, Harlan has to build those pieces of the model from scratch.

For instance, when these specialized lights were chosen for this project, Harlan called Craft Metal to inquire about getting digital 3D files of the fixtures, but the best they could provide was a flat, line drawing on a cut sheet with the overall dimensions of 42 inches wide by 54 inches tall (see image on left). From that, Harlan recreated each detail down to the stylized cross cut-outs in the metal to have a fully three-dimensional fixture.

Harlan is meticulous in his renderings, working to represent even seemingly insignificant details like metal caps over expansion joints. “The better the project is modeled,” he says, “the more accurate the drawings we can generate for construction.”

 

Enhanced Renderings

Once the model of the church was built in Revit, Harlan imported it into Lumion to give the visuals more dimension. In Lumion, layers of realistic shadows, light play over reflective surfaces, time of day, plants, people and exterior environments are added, depending on what the architect or client wishes to see.

For Blessed Sacrament, Harlan initially produced renderings of two ceiling options: a warm, wooden beamwork ceiling and an alternate with decorative panels painted white. The visuals showed that the wooden ceiling seemed too heavy and rustic, closing down the lofty space, and the white-painted panel work was too stark.

“We wanted people to walk into the church and think the ceiling had been there from the beginning,” stated Schindler. “We didn’t want details or decoration of the ceiling to seem out of place.”

Design Development

As the design continued to develop, paint colors were explored that could accentuate the ceiling. The coffers’ contours were enhanced with five colors of paint including a metallic aged brass. The paint colors were influenced by the stations of the cross, stained glass windows and other original elements in the church.

Father Heiman wanted to explore the possibility of adding religious art to the ceiling. One design had twelve coffers to highlight each of the twelve apostles. An alternate featured four main areas for art that could be thematically linked by depicting the Blessed Sacrament.

Art selection, sourcing and rights became a challenge, so the decision was made to proceed without art for now. The second coffer pattern was chosen and the church has the option of adding four paintings in the future.

Construction

Construction began in December 2019. Scaffolding was erected and existing acoustic tiles were scraped off the ceiling to prepare for construction of the coffers.

Ceiling coffers were custom built with seven different styles of wood trim and crown moulding. Initial plans used custom wood profiles, but WDM found similar, commercially available profiles to use which made the coffer builds much more affordable.

Entry Improvements

The original main entry steps had become cracked and deteriorated over time which presented a trip hazard. Blessed Sacrament took the opportunity while the church was closed for the ceiling renovation to address this issue. Steps, sidewalk and decorative handrails were installed to provide a fresh new entry for parishioners when they returned to the newly renovated interior.

Altar Improvements

The way Mass is offered has changed since Blessed Sacrament was built. To accommodate those changes, an area in front of the altar table was expanded with a makeshift solution of a couple of shipping pallets with a rug thrown over the top. With the renovation, the altar platform was permanently extended to allow more space where the priest and others officiate during Mass.

Carpet on the entire altar was replaced with 5-foot-square, large-format tiles for a monolithic look. Black marble on the altar became the inspiration for the coordinating black tiles with white veining. These tiles are also low profile to meet existing threshold heights. Worn-out broadloom carpet was replaced with new carpet tiles throughout the Sanctuary underneath the pews.

Award Winning Project

  • Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church
    Award of Excellence

    Associated General Contractors of America

  • Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church
    Excellence in Design Honorable Mention for Interior Design

    AIA Kansas

Measure of Success

Melinda Foley, a lifelong Blessed Sacrament parishioner, said, “The first time I saw the finished renovation of the ceiling and new organ, I began to cry tears of joy. My lovely church had enhanced its beauty even more and is truly a place of worship befitting our heavenly Father.”

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Project Overview

Location:

124 N Roosevelt St. Wichita, KS 67208

Area:

7,250 s.f.

Cost:

$1M incl. the organ

Started:

Dec. 2019

Completed:

April 2020

Team Involved:

Principal-in-Charge: Matt Schindler, AIA Interior Designer: Angi Womeldorff, IIDA, NCIDQ Renderings: Jason Harlan Electrical Engineering & Lighting Design: MKEC Engineering Consultants General Contractor: The Law Company Acoustics: Avant Acoustics Sound & AV: Electronic Contracting Co. Organ: Berghaus Organ Builders

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church Portfolio Project

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