Friday, February 20, 2009

Good Enough for Horses

Some of the goals of Shadyside Presbyterian Church’s Building Community Capital Project include a welcoming fellowship space adjacent to the sanctuary, a recognizable Westminster Place entrance and easy, accessible circulation within the structure. The complexity of the pastor’s directions to the Parish Hall for coffee hour can be risible. The journey includes going outside, negotiating steep stairs or traversing the mysterious undercroft.The enclosure of the cloister courtyard accomplishes the goals, and in the bargain re-establishes an old north-south circulation axis.

For its first forty-five years, Shadyside Church consisted of the sanctuary building and the chapel joined by a colonnaded walkway, separated by a narrow space. The human scale of the present entrance opening to the street obscures its original purpose.In 1890, some would have arrived at the church by horse and carriage. It has been a matter of mild curiosity that there was no obvious porte-cochere – so common in that era.
A City of Pittsburgh plat plan was a hint that this amenity had not been ignored. It indicates a pathway through the colonnade between the church and chapel. Recently re-discovered site information and close inspection of an old photo seem to confirm that the present opening through the covered walkway extended down to street level. It provided a sheltered disembarkation at an east-end door of the nave. A moderate downward slope reached the location of the present Parish Hall for the carriage to wait or turn for exit.

By the 1930s, auto travel made the passage unnecessary or impractical. Addition of the chancel apse and office space made it impossible. The elevated floor level in the colonnade and the raised ground level between church and chapel allowed the original use to fade from memory.A new porte-cochere will be extruded toward the street from the existing segmental arch opening – shelter at the new Westminster door. The renewed circulation axis will extend through the atrium to ministry/business offices as well to a new stair tower to the Parish Hall and Christian Ed/Nursery School facilities. (The existing elevator offers alternate access.) At the head of the stair, a window will look down into the renovated Parish Hall. The atrium will not only be a pass-through, but a convenient gathering space after worship, with ample access to the welcoming Parlor.

The rediscovery of the original circulation axis pathway did not suggest its re-establishment. However the size, shape and location of the courtyard that replaced it did. More detail of the project plans are here. A now & then comparison.

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