As was noted at the beginning of the process, the reconstruction of the West Cummington Church began with a study of the building which had been lost, placing it in the historical context of the time and the evolution of architectural styles. It also involved a study of the report made by the options committee, and several public meetings at the Parish house, at which alternative were debated and new options defined for study.
The message that came through in these meetings was that the essential qualities of simplicity, light, sound and a sense of remove from daily activities were as important as the physical nature of the building. There was, concurrently, a concern for the nature of the building as part of the village community of buildings.
The essential strategy that was the result was to effectively reproduce the exterior volume of the church as it was, modified to accommodate current requirements, and to reconsider the interior of the building, acknowledging the qualities noted above.
The process of design has tested the importance of many elements in the building, by suggesting alternatives and by removing or changing elements in design studies. This testing has lead to a redefinition of the interior plan to provide a center aisle with side aisles along the windows, while retaining the ‘backward plan’, and the sloped floor.
The defining notion of the organization was to create a greater sense of connection between the congregation and the minister, and to accommodate the forming of a circle as occurs at the end of each service. A defined place for children’s time and accommodation for wedding parties was also made, reflective of changes that have been made in other churches, where front pews have been removed.
The building plan has been altered to incorporate two unisex, handicapped equipped toilets, a rear vestibule, and an interior access to the small basement and the bell tower. Front and rear vestibules will provide for coats on simple pegs.
The ceiling form has been evolved from the original coved form to an oval. An attempt has been made to simplify the sanctuary and the height has been raised based on advice from acoustical consultants.
The design of the dais will thus allow for greater access by continuous steps around its perimeter, and it will be removable to allow for alternative uses, such as music, performance and the accommodation of handicapped persons at the pulpit.
The design of the pews is being studied and will provide a shelf under the seat in front and on the low wall at the front of each row.
The intention of the interior is to create a simple, elegant space, free of excessive detail and representation, with divided lite, operable windows, painted surfaces, minimal mechanical systems, and variable lighting, allowing the building to operate as simply as it appears.
The proposal is to utilize a heavy timber frame, designed and made locally, and to be raised as a celebration of the rebuilding of the church. The enclosure of the building will incorporate significant insulation and will have divided insulated glass windows, thus utilizing minimal energy to maintain and occupy.
A number of steps are being taken to accommodate the constraints of the site, such that the orientation of the building, sitting on the rise of Church road, can remain as it was. These include alteration of the terrain behind the building and the application for a number of variances from applicable codes and bylaws.
The intention is to begin construction of the building in the summer of this year with completion in early 2012. The engagement of local builders, craftsmen and volunteers is anticipated and is being organized by the church, as is an effort to create jobs for individuals in the community.
The process of building began with the basic question of what type of building to build and its relationship to the church lost to fire. It progressed through open ended studies of alternatives and an extensive and open discussion process that extended through the winter of 2010. The drawings illustrate the sum of that process, which involved the input of many members of the congregation who attended building committee meetings to express their ideas.
Current efforts involve the preparation of construction documents for the beginning of work this summer. The site clearing and foundation will begin in early summer, followed by the timber frame in late summer to early fall, followed by enclosure and building systems and finally by interior finishes, fixtures, pews and miscellaneous details.
Information about the construction will be available from building committee members and soon, by direct observation of the building site. The raising of the frame will be the most emphatic manifestation of the raising of the new church.