Why A Traditional Lutheran Church
Church Was Constructed with SIPs



Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Basehor, Kansas is a remarkably solid, traditional and old-looking brand-new building. Mark Curfman of Urban Architecture Studio and Jerry Frese of J.M. Frese Construction worked in concert to create a very conventional church within a tight budget using structural insulated panels (SIPs).
Frese had a special connection to the church. A Missouri Synod Lutheran, Frese has a son who pastors at Redeemer Lutheran church in Ft. Wayne Indiana. He and Father Michael N. Frese toured and studied many churches and castles in Europe over a period of 5 years.

Nave.jpgAny design ideas that Jerry Frese thought would be appropriate for Risen Savior had to first be approved by seven respected Pastors in the church body. “I named them 'Black Birds'," said Frese. “It was crucial that the design was liturgically correct. Once approved by the Black Birds, I would meet with Mark and have him work with this idea.”
Curfman also did some homework. “I hit the book stacks to better understand how the great traditional churches were designed,” he explained. “Jerry had traveled many times to Germany, Austria and Spain looking at the early Lutheran Churches from the Reformation, and I looked at the old historical Lutheran churches around Kansas City, Topeka and St. Louis.
“We wanted to design and build a church that reflected both the traditions of the Lutheran Church of 500 years ago and the Risen Savior Lutheran Church congregation in rural Leavenworth, Kansas and do it with today’s construction and materials. We looked at the elements that make up a Lutheran church and the ideas that went into the design and construction of the original churches.”
According to Curfman, the old churches were designed using what's known as sacred geometry. “From ancient times, it was believed that the world has a geometric order and to understand this geometry was to understand the creator – God. This geometry became the backbone for much of the sacred art and architecture from ancient times forward. Examples of this geometry are the proportion of the golden rectangle that is found in the facades of the Parthenon in Athens and Notre Dame in Paris. It is found in the stained glass rose windows and pointed arches of the Gothic cathedrals.
“We used these principles of sacred geometry in the design. Risen Savior’s wood trusses incorporate a Gothic arch and help to focus on the arched Apse and ultimately the Altar,” Curfman explains. “Many of the smaller churches in Germany and the Lutheran churches of America used wood as the primary structure as well as the ornament, rather than the carved stone found in the great cathedrals. We wanted this rich material and craftsmanship to carry throughout the church – not like many contemporary churches that are just acres of drywall. The congregation wanted a church that looked from day one like it had been there for 100 years.”


R-Control SIPs were chosen for the roof because of the desire to maximize roof insulation R-value and speed up enclosure of the finished trusses, Curfman related. “We wanted to make the church as energy-efficient as possible to minimize the annual operating expenses for the church," he said. "We also wanted to protect our lofty investment in the trusses. A slow roof installation could be devastating to the project, with the outside elements putting the exposed trusses at risk.
“The trusses were to be stained and a finished element in the building. The last thing we needed was for weather to destroy the beautiful craftsmanship of the trusses,” Curfman explained. “Once we had the trusses erected, the SIPs were laid in less than two weeks and the trusses were protected. The SIPs were perfect for this project.”

Chris Orlando, PE, of CEO Structural Engineers, whose team was responsible for designing the building structure said, “SIPs work really well for wood-framed roofs because of the way the long edges connect. Actually, each long edge is recessed to receive a continuous 2x, say 2x8. No matter what the roof pitch is, typical roof construction starts by spanning each SIP from one sloped truss across to the next. Then long threaded screws on regular centers are drilled through the SIP that cinches each bearing end down tight onto the truss substructure, which also prevents the SIP from sliding.
“Now, here’s the beauty,” explained Orlando. “Along one side, the 2x8 is fitted into the recess and panel-nailed from both faces, then another 2x8 is fitted onto the first and nailed together, then the recess of the next SIP fits over the second 2x8 and panel-nailed from both faces. In this way all four edges of each SIP panel are connected, creating a sturdy diaphragm that not only takes weight, but also can transfer lateral loads to shear walls or resisting frames.”

Orlando remembers there was a lot of cooperation. “A good result happens when everybody is part of the solution. ACH Foam Technologies, the SIPs manufacturer, started off providing standard generic details that we saw had to be modified due to the exceptionally steep roof pitch that created problems for how flat SIPS came together at peaks and valleys. On the theme that all four edges of each SIP are to be connected, we were impressed with ACH’s willingness to complete the details to our requirements and then construct them with a caliber of craftsmanship that matches the significance of the building.    

“Just to make sure it was going to turn out right, we modeled the entire roof structure in 3-D CAD using Google ‘Sketch-Up’, showing in precise detail how all the angles should be cut. ACH followed every detail precisely, which made the overall placement of the SIPs virtually flawless. One reason the building looks as good as it does it because the SIPs were erected and set very, very well.”
Orlando added, “Some buildings can be done messily, but not a church. A wood church requires real craftsmanship, or it’s going to end up looking disgraceful.  It was a good collaboration. ACH provided craftsmanship equivalent to the expert carpenters.”


Mark Curfman added that once the SIPs were installed, they were faced on the interior with a rich wood paneling. “As designers, we wanted to use the best materials available and provide the detailing – from the structural connections to the ornamental trim - that would accent the excellent craftsmanship that Jerry and his team were able to bring to the project. You can feel this richness as soon as you enter the church,” he adds. “The wood, the rich tones, the sacred design elements and the incredible workmanship make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. This is how they used to design and build sacred structures.”

Although few individuals would think of a traditional church stucture as an environmentally designed building, constructing a church with SIPs can help it earn certification under LEED and other green building programs.


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