28 nov 16  | Chicago Tribune

World renowned architect designs North Shore church

By Manya Brachear Pashman

When world renowned architect Adrian Smith begins to draft the scheme for one of his towering buildings, he and his wife, Nancy, get on their knees and pray. Most of his masterpieces, including the tallest building in the world, reach toward the heavens as well.

But Smith's latest labor of love is a one-story building on a tight budget. Next month, thousands, including Smith of Lake Forest, can seek God every Sunday at the newly designed Willow Creek North Shore, one of seven satellite campuses for Willow Creek, the evangelical megachurch based in South Barrington.

"Every project that I do, early in the project I (kneel) down with my wife and hold hands and pray for certain things," Smith said in an interview from China where he has eight buildings under construction. "I pray for wisdom and inspiration and guidance, not only for me but for all those who work with me. Because you never know where good ideas are going to come from or how they're going to surface and this project was no different."

Best known for the 2,717-foot Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which holds the title of world's tallest building, Smith, along with his colleagues at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, designed Willow Creek North Shore, 2204 Shermer Road in Glenview, which is scheduled to open for worship and architectural tours in December.

The 72,000-square-foot building design is inspired by the elliptical shape of a mustard seed, a biblical reference to Jesus' parable that teaches the smallest of all seeds on Earth can become the largest of all garden plants and faith works the same way. Smith said the parable inspired more than the design, but the entire project.

"If your faith is smaller than a mustard seed, you can move mountains," Smith said. "There's nothing you can't do if you have faith. That was kind of an interesting thing for us because we knew they had a very low budget going in. We could use that with them to say, 'you can get this done.' It was a message to all of us."

Indeed, the Rev. Steve Gillen, lead pastor at Willow Creek North Shore, said Smith's encouragement and enthusiasm about working with limitations "gripped our hearts." Not many churches can afford an "Adrian Smith building," he said, and not many architects of Smith's caliber would bother with a budget of $200 per square foot. But using creative construction methods and materials, Smith created a model for other churches to follow.

"The history of architecture is told through the history of church," the pastor said. "This is a great chance for them to add another chapter to that. It opens up for pastors all these opportunities that they don't have to sacrifice design. I think it will inspire a lot of people."

Smith said the building is purposefully designed to look like a community center instead of a church.

"It wants to reach people who are intimidated by going into more traditional staid church buildings," he said. "It wants to reach out to those who are searching."

Set behind a pond, the curved walls, floor to ceiling glass and lush landscaping aim to bring the outdoors inside. Natural sunlight bathes every area of the building. The circular structure also makes it difficult for one to get lost, Smith said.

Until the building opens, the Glenview congregation will continue to worship at Christian Heritage Academy, where the church assembles and takes down its setup for services every Sunday. That limits what worship leaders can do at a church that integrates contemporary live music and other performing arts into its programs.

The new facility features a 1,200-seat auditorium surrounded by a common area where attendees can enjoy coffee or watch worship services on video screens. The space also will house offices and classrooms. A children's area will accommodate up to 400 kids per service.

naugural services are scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec .3 and 9 and 11:15 a.m. Dec. 4. Architectural tours are available upon request. Regular church services will be held on Sunday at 9 and 11:15 a.m., beginning Dec. 11.

In addition to projects in China, Smith, 72, is working to top his own record by designing the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, which is expected to exceed a height of 3,280 feet. That will be more than double the height of another Smith-led project in Chicago, the 1,389-foot Trump International Hotel & Tower.

"I really do feel that God listens to me and answers my prayers," Smith said. "So these buildings become the result of that."

But in his 50 years as an architect, he never designed a religious building until he designed his own church.

"Why would a guy who has built the tallest buildings in the world devote this much time to a single-story structure?" Gillen said. "You ask that question and you see him devote this many hours. Why would he do that? The answer is faith and his love for our community. This is his home as well."