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Perspectives in Architecture: New life for an old church building in Inman Park

June 19, 2018

A revival has energized the Lizzie Chapel Baptist Church. Built as the Atlanta Gospel Tabernacle in 1930, parishioners from four congregations enlivened this Neoclassical Revival-style building in Inman Park with their church services for seventy-five years. The building’s stately full-height porch and triangular feature above a set of classical columns characterize this popular architectural style in the United States during the early 1900s. Although the church was recognized as historically significant by the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission in 2002, Lizzie Chapel Baptist Church shuttered its doors in 2005.

Preserving the historic character of an existing church in a popular neighborhood, yet repurposing the building to be economically viable presented a daunting task for developers and architects. As further protection for the structure, proposed renovations and additions to Lizzie Chapel Baptist Church would need the approval of savvy community leaders and the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. This landmark lingered in silence from multiple, failed development deals for nearly ten years until Kairos Development Corporation and Chasm Architecture emerged with their ambitious plans to revitalize the building.

Chasm Architecture Managing Partner Nathaniel Clark AIA led the architectural and engineering teams through the design process of transforming the two-story Lizzie Chapel Baptist Church into Lizzie Chapel Flats, a three-story, six-unit condominium project. This process entailed a complex mix of new building components and the restoration of historical elements. Clark adds, “It was important for us to be empathetic, meticulous and mature enough to stop designing when we arrived at the appropriate solution.“ A new, floating concrete floor was added with minimal impact on the building exterior. The church steeple and the stained glass from 1970s and 1980s additions were removed to restore the original designs. Natural light from the tall windows draw attention to the distinctive detailing inside the six lofts.

With their thorough attention to details and history, Chasm Architecture garnered the approval of community leaders, a 2017 Merit Award from the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Atlanta), and a 2017 Atlanta Urban Design Commission Award of Excellence for Adaptive Use. Residents of the Lizzie Chapel Flats have reinvigorated the once-abandoned church building. A neglected eyesore has been transformed into a community asset and an exceptional housing option in Inman Park. As other historic church buildings in metropolitan Atlanta face an uncertain fate, let’s hope that Lizzie Chapel Flats can serve as inspiration for developers and architects to rehabilitate and, if necessary, repurpose these impressive structures.

By: Melody L. Harclerode, AIA

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