The historic First Baptist Church of Flushing at 142-10 Sanford Avenue plans to add a the three-story expansion at 42-15 Union Street. Sun & Associate Architects conjured a series of interlocking glass surfaces that contrast with the 1890 eclectic Romanesque church.
Flushing, originally known as the village of Vlissengen, was founded by the Dutch in 1645 with a charter that allowed freedom of creed. The Flushing Remonstrance, published in reaction to a 1657 ban on Quakers, reaffirmed this commitment and became a model for the U.S. Constitution’s religious liberty guarantees.
Today the neighborhood is among the most diverse in the nation. The 2010 census shows that more than 90 percent of its 72,000-person population consists of ethnic minorities, with over half of the population claiming Asian descent. The church offers services in English, Spanish and Chinese. Prominent “welcome” signs written in English, Chinese, Hindi, Hebrew and Arabic face Sanford Avenue.
The compound expanded gradually over the years. The original church, articulated with dark red masonry, sparse Romanesque detailing, and crowned with a roughly 60-foot-tall steeple, is one of the neighborhood’s oldest buildings. A century-old, three-story, wood-framed rectory sat to the south at 42-19 Union Street, clad in dark wood shingles and capped with a steep gable roof.
A boxy, three-story annex east of the original church on Sanford Avenue was added in the early 20th century.
In 1984 the church acquired the 5,093-square-foot lot next door at 42-19 Union Street, boosting the site total to 27,055 square feet. The 1910 residence at the site once resembled the rectory, but was defaced with additions and renovations. Both structures were demolished during the summer and fall of 2014 to make way for the new building.
Manhattan-based Sun & Associate Architects tend to incorporate sweeping glass surfaces and rigorous mullion grids within its projects, many of which are located in China.
The clear surfaces and sheer glass walls of the church will interlock at right angles to create a light, airy ambiance. A 70-foot-high curtain wall, anchored upon a black steel grid, fronts a narrow atrium. A geometric pattern of stained glass forms a massive cross that spans the atrium wall, forming a dramatic backdrop for the historic church.
White steel beams atop the atrium face Union Street and form an asymmetrical cross, which shelters a bell beneath one of its arms.
The soaring atrium adjoins a 45-foot-high, three-story wing that will hold administrative offices on the second floor. The third floor sanctuary cantilevers toward Union Street. A translucent glass wall fronts its tall, rectangular interior, which shares certain spacial qualities with Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light. Slanted apertures notched into the north and south walls pay homage to Le Corbusier’s 1955 Notre Dame du Haut chapel in Ronchamp, France.
Unfortunately, dramatic shafts of light will not slice through the sanctuary the way they do in the French masterpiece. Eastern Mirage, an 18-story office building under construction just a few feet to the south at 42-31 Union Street, blocks much of the southern light.
While it would block light, the skyscraper’s curved glass façade is among the neighborhood’s most refined modern buildings. Eastern Mirage, the historic church, and its proposed addition would form one of Flushing’s most architecturally significant blocks, adding to the existing Sanford Avenue civic cluster containing a school and playground across the street from the church.
According to ChurchCash Consulting, the church secured a $300,000 loan to fund the project. Unfortunately, construction has been halted for about half a year, presumably by the Department of Buildings partial stop work order. The project board, which once displayed the project rendering, has disappeared. We look forward to the resumption of construction.