Devout Design

This Central Oregon Church Takes Its Design Cues from the High Desert

The minimalist, airy space reflects the Bend congregation’s veneration for nature.

By Katie Vaughan September 21, 2016 Published in the Design Annual: Fall 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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The congregation wanted a space respectful of nature, including its surrounding pines

"A church’s function is less defined than that of most buildings,” says Corey Martin. “It has to connect you with something unseen.”

To accomplish that nebulous, spiritual task for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon’s new place of worship just outside Bend, Martin took his cues from the high desert itself, marrying the surrounding site of an ancient lava flow into a minimalist, airy space with an impressively green footprint.

“You can see the land being created geologically here,” the 45-year-old design principal says, adding that the landscape exists in a constant battle between creation and erosion.

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Martin, an Oregon native and design principal at Hacker (formerly THA Associates), also called on the church’s 80-strong congregation for ideas, convening a six-person oversight committee. True to Unitarian Universalist principles, their vision included high sustainability standards, connection to nature, community service, and a “warm, inviting” feel.

Martin sees the building itself as an abstract felled log, one you might stumble upon in the juniper and pine forests near Bend: aging bark exterior turned silvery-gray; raw, warm-colored wood within. Inside the church, walls of cedar and stone bend and curve to mimic the basalt lava flow beneath. Large windows catch an angle of sunlight or a distant mountain view. In the winter, south-facing windows capture light, and the walls behind them (called Trombe walls) retain heat, providing a passive solar heating system throughout.

It’s the first religious building to receive Platinum-level Earth Advantage Certification—a Portland-based green certification program similar to LEED. With solar panels on the way, the church will effectively draw no power from the grid, creating as much or more energy than it uses. And that welcoming vibe the Unitarians hoped for? The congregation has more than doubled in membership since moving into its new home in 2015.

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