Central to their communities, churches from the Roman Empire through the first half of the 20th Century were characteristically more than just buildings: They were an extension of God Himself. That glory was something Alfonso Architects tried to replicate in the design of the Tampa Covenant Church in the Lake Magdalene area of North Tampa.
A pro-bono project led by Alberto Alfonso, founding principal and president, and Angel del Monte, partner of Alfonso Architects of Tampa, the new church is connected to a fellowship hall and education building that were both built in the 1960s.
Lou Kaloger, one of the resident pastors at Tampa Covenant Church, says initial meetings with Alfonso and del Monte were not about the building but about the theology of the church, the pastor’s understanding of the scripture, the concept of sacred space, the place of art, and the metaphor of the “Ancient Future” church, a term under which Tampa Covenant Church classifies itself. (Ancient Futurism was founded as a non-denominational Christian faith in the 1970s.)
These discussions informed the design of the church, which features primarily smooth, white plaster exterior walls. A 10-foot-square frieze, hand drawn by Alfonso himself and etched into an exterior wall, depicts various biblical references—from the Ark of the Covenant to the Alpha and Omega symbolism. Above an oak-sheltered courtyard is a cast-iron bell, estimated to be more than 120 years old, that was salvaged from a demolished church in North Dakota. “The juxtaposition of old and new was appropriate for the bell tower,” says del Monte. In addition to the deep tone and timbre of the cast iron—compared to a newer, lighter-weight bell—an old bell also promotes human interaction, a critical element for the congregation.
The importance of sound becomes apparent inside as well upon entering the antechamber with its canted walls, sealed concrete floor, exposed steel beams, and granite walls, all of which combine to reflect sound. Bold auditory projections, together with the monolithic architecture of the church’s entry sequence, recreate the experience of entering an older, more cavernous house of worship.
Inside the worship sanctuary, wide south-facing windows above the chancel provide daylight over rows of pews seating 520. The architects designed a scrim to diffuse direct rays and shield parishioners from the harsh Florida sun while still maximizing natural light. The screen is one of several design elements in this church proportionate to the Fibonacci sequence. A light box filters sunshine from a skylight, which, on April 15 each year, directs a beam of light to the base of a large cross standing on the hall’s walnut chancel.
A welded steel cross is one of the space’s few adornments, and the santuary’s east wall of pressed steel doubles as a striking, modest candle shrine. A row of 14 glass-enclosed pendant fixtures—sand-etched with rings to represent the Stations of the Cross—hang
above the sanctuary.
Opposite the steel wall is a river stone–enclosed oval chapel. If the minimalist and clean lines of the sanctuary represent “future,” then the chapel is a direct reference to “ancient,” evoking the feel of Old Jerusalem. The space is illuminated by an oculus opposite the entrance, balancing the only other natural light source from the single point of entry. The one element that visually connects the sanctuary with the chapel is an exposed steel beam—a nod to the unbreakable bonds that connect all of God’s creatures. “Alberto initially asked if such a prayer chapel would be utilized. I told him that it was so beautiful that we would come up with multiple ways to use it, and we have,” Kaloger says.
Church members donated funds for key features, such as the interior stone wall of the chapel and the granite communion table in the sanctuary. Alfonso refused to compromise the quality of work, and insisted on attention to details like indented corners to conceal audio speakers in the walls. He also aligned elements such as thermostats, exit lights, and light switches; a detail he says he learned from working with Santiago Calatrava.
The understated, neutral palette lets visitors color the space, and define its character through their intentions. “We went from a small sanctuary that was at best utilitarian to a structure that, in and of itself, preaches a sermon,” says Pastor Kaloger.
Key Design Highlights
- An oval wall of river stone envelops a chapel. The jagged natural stone contrasts with the smooth concrete floor and white ceiling.
- Biblical cues throughout the building and interior create a structure that tells a story. For example, the 14 Stations of the Cross are represented by a row of pendant lights over the santuary.
- A pressed steel wall in the sanctuary frames a candle shrine.
- Sound was highly considered, with walls and surfaces designed to further project sound and create the sense of a more cavernous house of worship.
- A neutral palette of materials and color lets the inhabitants define the space.
Tampa Covenant Church
Architect Alfonso Architects
Client Tampa Covenant Church
Where Tampa, Florida
What 25,000 square feet on two floors