Church Design Tidbits: Balconies and Landscaping

Church Design Tidbits: Balconies and Landscaping

In this article, we will be giving some design tidbits for two unrelated, but important, features of your church project: balcony seating and landscaping.

Balcony Seating

When properly designed, balcony seating has some benefits worth considering. Balconies can solve the problem of future expansion as the congregation grows and can enable a church with limited land to expand “up” rather than “out”. In fan-shaped sanctuaries a balcony can increase the seating by almost 50%. A future balcony should be master-planned from the start with the major structure completed during the sanctuary construction. A removable wall can temporarily hide this unfinished space.

Many people assume that a balcony is always an inexpensive and smart way to expand. However, the floor system, structural framing, riser framing, handrails and multiple stairways are an additional expense not incurred when seating on the main level. The primary problem with balcony seating, however, is often not related to construction costs. Many people complain of feeling like spectators when sitting in a balcony, and balconies often do not provide good visibility of, or easy access to, the altar area. Furthermore, it’s simply difficult to see someone’s face beyond about 65 feet. Since the sight-line is downward, balcony handrails and the person in the row ahead often block the view as well. Problems related to the seats under the balcony may include columns, low ceilings and poor sound or lighting.

Some elements of good design include stairs or stadium seating on the sides with easy access to the main floor, two steps per row for added visibility, high-back pews to alleviate the fear of falling forward, glass or narrow rails in the upper half of balcony walls, and large-screen video monitors or projection screens.

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Landscaping

While landscaping can add immensely to the value, beauty and comfort of a church site, most architectural firms do not provide detailed landscaping design in their scope of services unless specifically requested by the owner. Many jurisdictions will require a rudimentary landscaping plan consisting of a site plan indicating the location, type and size of new and existing trees and shrubs, areas of sod and mulch, as well as an erosion control plan. It is now common for permit authorities to require landscaping islands in the parking areas based upon the amount of pavement. These islands are usually located at the ends of parking rows. Landscaping islands, however, can become an impediment to snow removal. In transition yards (a green area separating the church parking lot or buildings from adjoining residential or commercial property) a screen of trees and shrubs is also often required by permit authorities.

Deciduous trees on the south and west of the building will shade and cool the church in summer yet let warming sunlight through the bare branches in winter. The church should select hardy plant types that require little maintenance. Keep in mind that the little shrubs being planted may quickly grow too large for their placement near parking spaces, sidewalks, and buildings.

The church should consider the benefits of good landscaping design. A knowledgeable landscape architect can be hired to develop a master plan for landscaping that can be developed over time as funds become available.