This small church is a study in doing much with little. Situated in view of I-49, St. Nicholas is one of only two examples of Orthodox churches in northwest Arkansas. A former metal-framed and -clad shop building, it was renovated with an eye toward economy, while maintaining an adequate and even poetic facility to accommodate the Orthodox liturgy. It is now clad in black corrugated metal sheeting on the exterior (switching to white along the main entry wall), suggesting the primacy of the entrance facade and ensuring that the worship space on the interior faces east, in line with Orthodox liturgical tradition. The entrance door itself has been heightened and is topped with a slab canopy, effectively proclaiming access on this minimal face. Two areas of colored glass, yellow and blue, are embedded in the north and south edges of this face; they serve to bracket the building edges firmly. Rising high over the facade is a boxy steeple, into which is embedded a red glass cross. During night use, these glass gems glow with color from the exterior; by day, they both enhance the spatial experience of the interior and signify spaces of particular consequence. Entrance into the church is not on axis with the sanctuary as might be expected. Due to the proportions of the existing building, the worshipper turns left in a procession through the narthex. On the interior, beneath the tower, the visitor’s direction is again shifted in spatial transition from the narthex to the sanctuary. The interior is outfitted with symbols and familiar icons from traditional Orthodoxy and is topped by a decorated dome, itself a repurposed satellite dish, testimony to the clever economy of material deployment on the interior. Colorful light emanates from the blue and yellow corner spaces in a modern interpretation of traditional Baroque sources. Social and private spaces for the clergy add additional interest to the whole. The building references local conditions of utility through its simplicity of form and use of materials, while simultaneously establishing a strong foray into modernist imagery and details. In so doing, St. Nicholas Church successfully provides for the needs of modern Orthodox liturgical spaces and their associated traditions.
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St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church
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