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The issue of video in worship appears to be “Johnny-come-lately” with respect to acoustics and lighting. After all, we have been in the electronic age for the better part of a century, but the digital age is still in its infancy, especially in the church world. Therefore, confusion abounds in the video world due to the fuzziness in attempting to blend technology and content. This article will focus on the technology (as opposed to content) and will discuss pro-active solutions in the design process.

For thousands of years until the invention of electricity, architects and builders throughout history intuitively understood natural visual communication. While it may seem as if video didn’t exist prior to electricity, that is not the case.

Just like the natural room acoustic qualities, the Anasazi utilized the natural visual environment of their chosen site of Chaco Canyon in present day northwest New Mexico. Their entire world view and in fact their actual physical survival centered on their extensive knowledge and technical application of the cosmos as manifested by both the solar and lunar calendars. The solar calendar is obviously cyclical on an annual basis, but more sophisticated – and more critical – was the 19 year lunar calendar that allowed them to predict the rain/snow cycles with amazing accuracy.

This larger cosmological scale was replicated in the design and orientation of their worship environments in the form of “pueblo’s” which were religious ceremonial centers. These pueblo’s had at least one wall oriented to a solar or lunar event that was significant in the celebration of their religion. Far more than a lifestyle, these participatory ceremonies were integral to the sustainability of their daily physical lives on the whole. To say it was a life or death situation would be entirely accurate.

As discussed last time, they chose to build more numerous smaller pueblos and kivas within the pueblos because it allowed more mystery in their transcendence of a lunar/solar cosmos as manifested in their lunar and solar calendar. As observed in the previous article their worship was enhanced by “concurrent worship” in different kiva’s (usually along familial lineage) in each pueblo as well as adjacent pueblos on the valley floor and up on the mesa some up to 10 miles away in each direction.

These kiva’s were round for a variety of metaphysical reasons not the least of which was movement of people during worship, but mostly due to the full circular path of the solar/lunar cosmos. Again, as stated last time (October 2006 issue) it can be said that the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon were the original “simulcasters”! They intuitively sought to fashion their religious spaces in an architectural manner that was inherently visual, dare we say “video”.

Infant Digital: As with the natural acoustic environment we studied last time, again the irony to this present reality is that compared to our forefathers throughout history we have the opportunity to “have our cake and eat it too” relative to both natural AND digital imagery. While we have always been a multi-sensory (especially visual) people, we are now at a point in time where there exists the greatest possibility for almost unlimited creative natural design and technical solutions. The question is no longer just what can we do, but if we can do anything then what should we do?

As we have seen thus far in this series, the post-modern day comparison to the Anasazi is Grace Community Church. It is located in Noblesville, Indiana on the far northside of Indianapolis began initially to master plan a new 4,000 seat worship space. With concerns of the loss of intimacy and connectedness in such a large worship environment by the Senior Pastor Dave Rodriguez they decided to pursue several smaller worship environments on their 52 acre campus in lieu of a large, single “concert hall” church.

To review from previous articles in this series, the results of that design concept under construction now include a new 1,500 seat “main” worship space, a new 600 seat “traditional” worship space and division of the current 1,100 seat worship space into two separate 450 seat and 350 seat worship spaces. The largest of the four concurrent worship environments, the 1,500 seat “GraceMain” space is economized by a rectangular space with the platform on the long side.

Much as the Anasazi knew intuitively, Grace had been doing “in the round” in their existing 1200 seat worship space for many years in an otherwise “frontal” layout. Though very challenging technical factors complicate the lives of the Tech team led by Daryl Cripe, the congregation as a whole appreciates the intimacy and connectedness of the participatory environment. By design then the new GraceMain has a 270 degree permanent layout with the portable capability to go fully in the round. In any configuration however, the physical sightlines of the space allow for a simultaneous ”live people” and video screen coupling. In other words no matter where you are seated when you see people in the active visual field, there is a screen in the immediate visual proximity.

This is only one of four concurrent worship spaces each with their own unique video body language according to each desired environment. As previously stated while it would be possible, yet time consuming to describe the other three spaces, suffice to say that in each space, the material economy and spatial creativity produce equally striking counterintuitive relationships of the live/video screen realities.

Conclusion: In terms of the digital culture, churches are late to the scene with respect to video. Just recall that for many churches the ubiquitous overhead projector (remember that high-tech form of “shadow puppets”?) was still in use in our worship environments as recent as a decade ago when movie screens/TV’s, even computer screens have been in use for nearly half a century.

Much as our previous discussion on acoustics observed, the nature of how we create, sense and process visually is psychological due to how God created us to function. The best approach is to first understand the theology and culture “DNA” of the specific church, then fashion the room dimensions including psychological dimensions so that there is a seamless relationship with the technology so that the focus is on the content – pun most definitely intended!
As in room acoustics, there are only a few basic design principles that influence the natural visual environment, but their combinations are fundamental. While it is next to impossible to fix a bad acoustical space after it has been built, the video environment is somewhat more forgiving, but not by much.

The most significant influence is on the people/image relationships and proximity, it is obvious that the visual desires and goals should be determined early in the process. Again, as in room acoustics, so often churches are completely designed by an architect and then the “projector salesperson” is brought in late in the construction to “make the screens work”. Or conversely, the standard tilt-up industrial “box” with large open clear spans is built and no attempt is made to integrate the worship desires with the interior architecture even though inside such a box many visually creative things can be done to achieve a balance of the technical and artistic visual realities. As we previously stated – it isn’t rocket science, but it is “rocket art”!

In the early design stages, for video environments (as with room acoustics) the questions are more important than the answers. Contrary to popular belief it does not take a significant amount of time, effort or money. It does however take deliberate time and effort, early in the design process, focused on the one issue central to every church – and that is worship. When the desired natural environment visual qualities are achieved in the completed worship space, the result will not even be noticed, just the message.

While the issue of content is a whole other dynamic loaded with ethereal ministry theories and debates, there is a significant philosophical/theological concept that this logically produces in our current post-modern worship physical environment reality. This concept is called many things, but is most often referred to as “Multi-Site” or “Video-Venue”. These two derivatives plus a more perhaps biblical reality of “Concurrent Worship” will be defined and compared in the final (6th) article.

In the meantime – the more things change, the more they remain the same – the parallel story of the Grace tribe of Indy and the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon connecting God and people in human relationships. In the next article we will shine some light on the dimension of artificial lighting.

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