Architect David Hotson reinterprets a 1,400-year-old Armenian prototype in the design of St Sarkis Church in Carrollton, Texas

If it is true, as claimed by Germanus of Constantinople in his "Historia Ecclesiastica", that "the church is heaven on earth, in which the God who is above the heavens dwells and walks", it is easy to understand how complex it is to design and build a church, thinking of it starting from the community and the people who will use it, from the city that will welcome it, from the neighbourhood that will be transformed thanks to a place of worship that will mark, modify and offer opportunities for dialogue and encounters between people. The architecture of places of worship (both ex novo and the adaptation of existing buildings) requires the observance of precise design criteria in relation to the urban context and of technical, lighting and dimensional criteria referring to the different parts that make up the building.

St Ripsima's Armenian Church in Texas

In Carrollton, Texas, architect David Hotson has reinterpreted a 1,400-year-old Armenian prototype in the design of St. Sarkis Church. The new house of worship is inspired by the ancient Armenian church of Saint Ripsima in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Hotson has developed a project that looks as much to the past as to the future, mixing Armenia's ancient architectural and artistic traditions with modern digital design and fabrication technologies.

One and a half million tiny icons

The most striking innovation is the western façade of the church, which serves as a memorial to the 1.5 million victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide. The façade depicts the tree of life, the traditional Armenian cross composed of intertwined botanical and geometric motifs. As the visitor approaches, the overall design dissolves into 1.5 million tiny icons inspired by the circular symbols that recur throughout the Armenian artistic tradition.

High Definition Custom Prints

To realise the façade, Hotson collaborated closely with Fiandre Architectural Surfaces, a brand of the Iris Ceramica Group, which developed the DYS system capable of executing ultra-high definition, UV-resistant custom outdoor prints on large format ceramic cladding materials for ventilated façades. For the occasion, slabs with the required pixel units were produced, printing the complex design using a patented process. In addition to the façade of the memorial building, Fiandre supplied the entire range of ceramic finishes for internal and external soffits, walls and floors used throughout the St. Sarkis complex.

A grey volume in the landscape with interiors of light and silence

The grey volume defining the exterior of the church is a clear reference to the monolithic sculptural character of ancient Armenian churches, built entirely of stone. The juxtaposition of the monochrome architecture with the rich vegetation, created by the landscape architect Zepur Ohanian, recalls the relationship between monolithic architecture and landscape typical of ancient Armenian cult buildings and monastic complexes. Inside, the spaces are flooded with light inspired by the interiors of Santa Ripsima: the concave arches sculpted outwards reflect the intense Texan sunlight into the interior; the curved plastered vaults are made of fibreglass-reinforced gypsum according to the model requested by the architect and obtained through a process developed by a specialised company in Toronto. The vaults are smooth, devoid of lighting fixtures, air conditioning control grilles and other technical details that could interrupt the bright spatial sequence. Heating and cooling the church is provided by a displacement air conditioning system, which uses mechanical remote-controlled systems to feed air conditioning at low speed through floor draught valves located under the pews. The result is a silent space, free of mechanical vibrations and background noise from common high-speed air-conditioning systems, for the reverberant acoustics of traditional Armenian choral music.