Body Lawson Associates Architects & Planners

Body Lawson Associates Architects & Planners

New York, NY


Body Lawson Elevates Religious Communities with Mixed-Use Building Projects

By ccsullivan
Apr 19, '21 12:22 PM EST
Senda de Bendición, a new mixed-use building with church by Body Lawson Associates
Senda de Bendición, a new mixed-use building with church by Body Lawson Associates

Leveraging church real estate holdings to better serve community needs, architecture firm  Body Lawson Associates unveils a range of new projects in design and under construction.

The acclaimed architecture, interiors and urban design practice Body Lawson Associates Architects and Planners has announced several new mixed-use building projects commissioned by communities of faith on the East Coast. These works, along with recognition by local and national organizations, underscore the firm’s expanding client base and growing reputation and among religious facility owners as an experienced, successful architect designing varied housing and commercial settings around thriving houses of worship.

New works announced by Body Lawson Associates include the Iglesia de Dios Senda de Bendicion development in the Bronx. Conceived with a new, 6,745-square-foot church on the ground floor as well as 43 low-income residential units topped with green roof terraces, the wellness-oriented complex integrates new mixed-use space with a community center and a recreation room. As seen in other church-led building projects in cities around the nation, creative congregations can leverage their increasingly valuable real estate to fund profitable new real estate developments serving essential community needs, including mixed-use buildings with senior housing, affordable residences, commercial spaces for retailers and other job-creating employers, as well as expanded recreation and social offerings for their neighborhoods. 

Works of this nature by Harlem-based Body Lawson Associates, also known as BLA, are drawing interest from the media and from groups such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Interfaith Design working group. A national publication, Sacred Places, recently published an article by Body Lawson Associates, titled “Designing the Mixed-Use Church,” which states, “Congregation leaders willing to think creatively and share their land and buildings with community partners stand to benefit from not only upgraded facilities, but also from new income streams as well.”

Another example of this approach is Lagree Baptist Church, which is converting a retail and manufacturing building in the Bronx, New York, to encompass a new church along with retail, office and community facilities. The congregation has also adapted an audio-visual room so that church leaders will be able to broadcast services and events in the sanctuary to parishioners that are homebound or unable to visit the church during the pandemic. The new sanctuary, with a sloped floor and a 34-foot clear span, occupies about half of the first floor, adjacent to retail storefront spaces. Above are a fellowship hall and a church offices on the second floor, and rentable office spaces on the third floor, all topped with a planted green roof and a playground. The new facilities, now under construction with completion expected in March 2022, are served by two new elevators and two stairwells, encouraging greater use and healthy activity for churchgoers while energizing the neighborhood.

Versatile Church Campuses

Similar to this revitalizing approach, the leaders of Union Baptist Church reassessed their small, 1929 church building and envisioned upgrades and improvements to more appropriately welcome in a new generation of members. In a multi-phase transformation that included new, ground-up construction, Body Lawson Associates devised a state-of-the art sanctuary to accommodate congregation members in an amphitheater-type hall with full stage lights and an upper level, in addition to the original church structure. The design concept then connected the buildings with walkways and paths to make the grounds accessible for all, including those with limited mobility or using wheelchairs.

The completed result, which opened in 2009, is a “versatile church campus” featuring a lobby large enough to host events and a congregation hall that can be used not only for services but also for meetings, or potentially events or concerts held by outside groups. In the future, Union Baptist Church may rent out this space as an additional income stream, as well. In a second phase, Union Baptist Church will expand further to add a family life center, complete with classrooms and reading rooms, as well as a bookstore and potential café, creating the infrastructure needed to adapt to community needs and attract younger members.

Empowering Under-resourced Communities

Another major transformation with community impact is Holy Trinity Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. Slated for demolition in mid-2022, the existing worship facility will be replaced with an expanded new church integrated with an apartment building above. The church will include a main sanctuary, a fellowship hall where congregants meet, new classrooms, as well as a new video recording studio to support virtual services. Connected to the sanctuary, the production center will allow for recording and broadcasting live services as well. In addition, Body Lawson Associates designed a multipurpose room next to the lobby which can be used for community amenities — “a new approach that invites the community in, as traditional church designs tend to create exclusive, members-only spaces,” wrote one architecture magazine.

In this way, carefully executed mixed-use expansions of church facilities offers a path to growth, better community offerings, and wider audiences for worship -- and new ways to “empower people in under-resourced communities through their public spaces and buildings.”