Text by John Morris Dixon, FAIA
Founded in 1865 by black abolitionists, the First Congregational United Church of Christ now occupies its third structure on this historic site at 10th and G Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. Things have gotten taller in the last 150 years: The church’s current home occupies the first two floors of a 10-story mixed-use building by D.C.-based Cunningham | Quill Architects.
Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners designed both the envelope and interiors of the bottom two levels. To mediate between the reflective glass envelope of the upper floors and the cladding of neighboring buildings (which includes the Mies van der Rohe–designed Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, the central facility for the D.C. Public Library), the architects chose a dark, shimmering brick for the church exterior. Street-level glazing welcomes passersby, and a three-story column clad in white bronze doubles as a signpost for the church entrance. Two projecting glass vitrines indicate the main sanctuary and the chapel inside, admitting light by day and glowing like lanterns at night.
The ample double-height space of the sanctuary is made possible by a substantial transfer beam. Its floors are made of limestone, its walls are paneled in ash, and its ceiling supports a constellation of light fixtures. Custom-designed furnishings include movable seating to accommodate programs ranging from worship services to film screenings. Surrounding the sanctuary on two levels are an intimate chapel, social rooms, and offices. Functional and flexible, the church also serves as a de facto community center.
Project: First Congregational United Church of Christ, Washington, D.C.