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January/February 2017

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The notion of authenticity seems to come up a lot in contemporary church design. So does adaptive reuse. Can the two exist side by side? That question came to mind as I was working on this issue that has a feature profile early in its pages on Athens Church in Athens, Ga., home of Georgia State University. Athens pumped out bands the B-52s and R.E.M., and their sounds and songs were definitely authentic back in the 1980s. But that’s another topic.

If an important goal within churches and their multisites today is authenticity—in mission, trueness to neighborhood site or locale, as well as architectural design and branding—can that really be achieved in a repurposed Walmart or Home Depot big box? Or in any other adaptive reuse space, for that matter?

When I listen to what experts in architectural and interior design report, I think the answer is yes—at least in a stretch-goal sort of way. Consider this. In “Redemption Refrain” mentioned earlier, Athens Church eventually grew into a former TJ Maxx space. And then the quest for authenticity through design began. The college town space was outfitted by architects from Atlanta’s Bradfield, Richards, Rhodes & Associates this way, among others: “The original split-faced concrete blocks and storefront windows were transformed with paint, the addition of new windows, and by emphasizing entries with rusted steel.”

This one sentence cracked a window of perception in my mind and helped me to see that maybe there’s nothing more authentic than reusing a community’s existing space and giving it a new look and life. It’s like a metamorphosis of physical reality by building the new on top of the old, continuing a cycle of tradition—the ultimate in recycling. Maybe not tradition in an Italian courtyard kind of way, but tradition in a USA-we’re-only-238-years-old kind of way. Sometimes it’s better to build on what we’ve already built than to start all over from scratch. And in its own way, that’s authentic.

Blessings,

Carol Badaracco Padgett

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