by Freda Parker, reprinted from the Monolithic Dome Roundup, Summer 2000
"I felt like I had just had a baby!" exclaimed church secretary Norma Rae Barrietez. She had just flipped the fan switches and watched the inflating of the Airform for the new Monolithic Dome at Church On The Rock in San Antonio, Texas, one of several new, Monolithic Dome churches now underway.
On that morning of March 27, 2000, architect Gustave Heye, president of Gustave Heye & Associates, A.I.A. in San Antonio was equally impressed with the Airform's inflation. He said, "We had a dome-inflating ceremony. We said a prayer, made a speech, Norma Rae flipped a switch, the noise started, the Airform began to billow, and everyone got excited. What a great way to build a building."
With a diameter of 125 feet, height of thirty-eight feet and a mezzanine on its second floor, the Monolithic Dome at Church On The Rock will provide 13,500 square feet of floor area, dominated by the sanctuary. A bookstore, two nurseries and administrative offices will occupy the remaining space.
According to Pastor Ted Kennedy the decision to construct this structure was not a hasty one. He said, "Twenty-five years ago, I believe that God gave me a vision of a church. It was a dome. And I have talked about building a dome church for twenty-five years. Anyone that knows me knows that.
"And in that twenty-five years," Kennedy continued, "I went looking at hundreds of domes" I looked them over, went on the inside of them. But it wasn't the feel something was missing."
That searching process continued until Kennedy made a chance drive by the Monolithic Dome Institute. He stopped for a tour and got the right feel almost immediately upon walking into a Monolithic Dome. "I had the feeling of a whole different environment, something away from that busy world, and I liked it," Kennedy said. He began seeking an architect and found Gustave Heye.
Church On The Rock is Heye's first Monolithic Dome project. "But," he said, "when Pastor Ted Kennedy first came to us, we had been investigating domes-- geodesic, concrete, wooden. None of them were quite right. As soon as we learned about the Airform system, we knew we had the right one. The economy, the beauty, the efficiency of energy-- everything worked out."
Heye completed his investigation of Monolithic Domes with a trip to Italy, Texas where he toured MDI's facilities, the impressive 143' x 45' Oak Dome Retreat Center and other Monolithic Dome churches. Then, according to Heye, the real work-- the designing-- began.
"It's different," he said. "We're still getting used to walls that slope slightly around the perimeter-- things like that. We had to learn to work with a second floor that is not stacked exactly atop the first floor because the walls slope in. So it's an adjustment in thinking. We have been literally working within a box. Now it's a different shape box. It takes some getting used to, but it's been fun."
Faith Chapel Christian Center
Like Church On The Rock, the Faith Chapel Christian Center in Birmingham, Alabama is equally excited about their new Monolithic Dome-- the largest built to date. Its diameter of 280 feet and height of 72 feet will provide 61, 575 square feet for a sanctuary with seating for 3000, classrooms and offices." I had no idea we were going to build a dome," said Michael D. Moore, pastor of Faith Chapel Christian Center which he founded in 1981, along with four others that included his wife and mother. They met at the pastor's home, taught the adults in the living room and held the Children's Church in the den.
But Faith Chapel's congregation grew rapidly. Moore says "I could see we were outgrowing our building. So I approached this as I do any other problem: I started praying and asking God to show us what He wanted us to do. I was envisioning a traditional type of building; dome was the furthest thing from my mind."
Moore insists, "The Lord said 'dome' to me. That really threw me. I was no veteran to this kind of building. After some research, we found Monolithic Domes, began visiting them, and seeing some of the wisdom of this structure." Moore and other church members toured LeSEA Ministries in South Bend, Indiana, a 190' x 67' church built by Monolithic Constructors, Inc. of Italy, Texas in 1983 and Abundant Life Church in Denham Springs, Louisiana, a 190' x 48' dome constructed in 1995.
Faith Chapel's Administrator Debra Blaylock recalled those visits. She said that the others were "happy with the initial construction costs and the energy cost savings, but unhappy with the audio.
"Still, we wanted a Monolithic Dome for three reasons: 1. safety, we get tornadoes; 2. the dome is quick to build and the cost is reasonable; 3. the ongoing energy efficiency and that resulting savings."
Moore and Blaylock approached the architectural firm of Rick N. Lathan of Homewood, Alabama. With Rick Crandall of the Monolithic Dome Institute consulting, architect Shawn Calma at Lathan designed Faith Chapel's facility. Calma said, "The church's primary goal was getting a structure with strength and keeping costs down. But, good audio was equally important."
On Calma's advice, they contacted acoustical consultants at Michael Garrison Associates in Fresno, California. Garrison said, "Faith Chapel is a church with a contemporary, not a traditional or classical, style of program. They don't need traditional acoustics such as those for organ music. Faith Chapel needs auditorium style acoustics."
Garrison's recommendations include a false ceiling constructed of a special material and suspended from the Monolithic Dome. That ceiling will conceal a catwalk system, as well as heating, air-conditioning, lighting, video and audio equipment. Garrison said, "We'll also be hanging baffles made by RPG Diffusors, Inc. specifically designed to trap and absorb low frequencies in domes."
Saint Agnes Baptist Church
Like the others, Saint Agnes Baptist Church, also known as The March of Faith Ministries, in Houston, Texas, recently experienced that new-construction excitement. Coordinator Stephanie Roland said, "It was an event-- watching those Airforms grow. People came from everywhere to see it, though it was a foggy and chilly November day. We had television coverage, and the newspapers periodically still report the construction progress."
But excitement is not the only commonality between St. Agnes and Faith Chapel. The pastor of St. Agnes is Rev. Gene A. Moore Sr. (no relation to Pastor Michael Moore) and has a history similar to Faith Chapel's. Rev. Gene A. Moore said that in 1967 he and "Houston missionary Mary Agnes Foster were alerted to the need for a church in the burgeoning South Acres Estates." Moore and Foster took to the streets, asked residents to join in their quest, and formed a fellowship of six that met in a home.
That membership grew to a current 12,000 that is now constructing a 200' x 50' Monolithic Dome with 31,000 square feet and a seating capacity for 4000 as their new cathedral and administrative offices. A second structure of 100' x 33' with a floor area of 7800 square feet will encompass their Dome of Restoration and Fellowship as well as Sunday School classes. These new Monolithic Domes will be part of a campus that already includes an elementary and junior high school within eleven other buildings.
According to Moore, he "has an affinity for small beginnings." He said, "I started out with six (members), so I know what it means to be little. I never want to get caught up in the bigness of ministry, but I always want to be approachable and sensitive to the needs of every man.
"I am a servant who wants to follow the drumbeat that I hear and follow the mandate that has been put upon me," Moore continued. "I am what I am only because of the people that I serve."
Moore also said that at St. Agnes, "The decision to build with Monolithic Domes occurred after viewing a video presentation by David South and researching the dome architecture of previously built churches."
Other churches, besides Church on the Rock, Faith Chapel Christian Center and St. Agnes also have plans in the works for Monolithic Domes:
Living Word Bible Church
The Living Word Bible Church in Phoenix, Arizona also has an extensive project underway. Working with MDI Architect Rick Crandall, they are designing three domes, each with a diameter of 150', in a southwestern style and connected by a central core.
Home of Life Church
After completing a Feasibility Study, Rick Crandall continues working with the Home of Life Church in Chicago, Illinois. They're planning a new church consisting of two, 120' diameter domes. Since this church is located in a rough part of Chicago, now under redevelopment, the pastor and his congregation chose Monolithic Domes because of their ability to survive fire and bullets.
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