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Orthodox Church Architecture Passes Milestone in America's Heartland

Peter Crist

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Landmark Church is built in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Founded nearly 100 years ago, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Indianapolis is building a new church complex in neighboring Carmel to meet its growing needs. The new temple establishes architectural and theological history by utilizing a design that has never been seen before in an Orthodox Church. Named by its designer Christ J. Kamages AIA Architect, this innovative paradigm is called the "Triad." In its quest for a new home, Father Anstasios Gounaris, Dr. Dennis Dickos (President) and Tony Filis (Building Committee Chair) , together with Mr. Kamages and his team at CJK Design Group, have lead the way for the parish designing with dedication, innovation and ingenuity towards fulfilling their goals and their vision for the future.

Architect rendering of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

Architect rendering of
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.
(Click to enlarge. More pictures below.)

During its 2,000 year history, the Orthodox Church has developed a set of theologically-driven architectural principles that guide the faithful in the construction of houses of worship. Historically, however, the last major innovation in Orthodox Architecture occurred in the 6th Century when, after only 5 short years of construction, Justinian the 2nd and Patriarch Menas consecrated the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (today's Istanbul) on December 27, 537.

At that point in history, civilization had never before witnessed an inner sacred space such as that one. Fusing together great size and a holistic spiritual ethos, the Great Church of the Holy Wisdom is a tremendously large space that could accommodate over 4,000 people and would today hold a 14-story contemporary office tower under its 183 foot high dome. Yet, this light-filled building also embodies all the rudiments of an architectural language that carried through into later Christian and Muslim architecture. The majesty of Hagia Sophia continued to inspire, from the 9th Century Pre-Romanesque to the 12th -- 15th C. Gothic Architecture such as the Cathedrals of Salisbury, Chartres and Notre Dame, to the Renaissance masterpieces of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome by Bramante and Michelangelo and Brunelleschi's Florentine Duomo, some 1,100 years later. Following the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the Ottoman Moslems copied the architectural style of the Great Church for mosques in Istanbul and throughout the Islamic world.

Now in America's Heartland, 1,400 years after Hagia Sophia's completion, Holy Trinity is in the process of creating a new chapter in history with their beautiful new temple. Developed as an original prototype of ecclesiastical design within the centrally-oriented family of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia, it is comprised of historical elements and ancient precepts yet is a fresh, new design. The key elements still include the traditional Dome, Arches, Vaults and Exedras, (which have existed since the 3rd Century), but have NEVER been drawn or built in the Triad Configuration. Based on its unique, inventive and symbolic features, CJK Design has registered and copyrighted the Triad Prototype with the Library of Congress and is in the process of being patented.

The central core of the concept is a triangulated plan where the triangle symbolizes the nucleus of the faith, the Holy Trinity. The triangle then has "clipped "corners creating 3 major edges and 3 minor edges. Each edge has either a vaulted niche or Exedra with a Central Dome as the dominant element. The nave then has 6 total edges, one side for each day in the week with the Dome as the seventh (or Sunday). The dome is symbolic of Heaven and eternity, circular with no beginning and no end, as well as the aperture which allows the true Light, light from heaven above, to enter the nave. Like the dome of Hagia Sophia, numerous windows encircle the base. In this design, twenty arched windows will allow the natural daylight to pour into the temple. Like a beacon, the dome exterior will reflect golden light with a gleaming metal roof.

The assemblage provides a unique synthesis that creates:

  • Both grandeur and intimacy in the same space.
  • A sense of "Oneness" as the "Body of Christ" in worship or the "work of the people."
  • Extraordinary sightlines throughout the space.
  • A proportional and democratic positioning of the dome as the major interior and exterior element.
  • A wide face towards the sanctuary (Hagia Bema) providing great visual access and liturgical arts flexibility
  • Intimacy due to the maximum 70 feet the furthest seat is from the sanctuary.

CJK DESIGN GROUP, together with local contractor Sheil Sexton, has worked to bring to fruition this complex master plan at 106th and Shelborne streets in Carmel. Along with the easterly facing temple, there are plans to add a dining and recreation facility, classrooms, offices, a founders' walk and other support spaces that will serve this vibrant community in the future.

Scheduled to be finished early September 2008, the 25,375 sq. ft. first phase of construction includes the temple, the founders' walk and an administration building. The administrative component will house the offices of the parish priest and secretary along with other offices, a conference room and all the necessary functions. As an indoor atrium-like space connecting the temple to the administrative building, the founders' walk will serve as a gathering space for the community's after service coffee hour, dinners and other social needs. Together, they will support the church in their growing mission.

For now, the temple portion is under construction. The 52' diameter dome is one of the largest Orthodox domes in the Western Hemisphere. It now sits mostly constructed on the ground and is scheduled to be raised to its ultimate height of 65' above the ground on December 27, 2007 (coincidentally the 1,470th anniversary of the consecration of Hagia Sophia). After that, the building will be enclosed, with the brick walls, metal roofing, parking and the rest of the planned first phase soon to follow. With over 550 families, the large parish in the words of its leadership hopes that, "God willing, Holy Trinity will continue to serve our congregation, our children, the greater Indianapolis community, and central Indiana from larger, improved facilities that are architecturally conducive to Orthodox worship."

"The Triad Church of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church raises its Great Gold Dome as we approach Christ's Birth ... the Light of Lights and Son of Suns ... It becomes the pinnacle of the Church Temple ... gathering light during the course of time in the interior ... and Reflecting and projecting light on the exterior as a witness and lighthouse of the True Faith ... Now and for the ages to come."

YouTube video of Hagia Sophia:

Architect renderings of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
(Click picture to enlarge)
Architect rendering of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
Architect rendering of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
Architect rendering of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
Architect rendering of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
Architect rendering of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

Posted: 31-Dec-07

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Copyright 2001-2020 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

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