The new Saint Sarkis Armenian Church in Carrollton, Texas, designed by award-winning New York architect David Hotson, AIA, will be consecrated on April 23, 2022. The architecturally and culturally significant church will celebrate its first Sunday Service on April 24, 2022, the annual date on which the international Armenian Diaspora memorializes the 1.5 million victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
Hotson worked with long-time collaborator Stepan Terzyan, along with senior project manager Mike Konow and architectural designer Ani Sahakyan, to design the church. The total interior floor area for the entire complex is about 32,000 square feet. The surrounding landscape was designed and implemented by landscape designer Zepur Ohanian. Richard Calvert of Carrollton Texas served as the architect of record.
Hotson began designing Saint Sarkis with a brief that envisioned a new church building modelled on the ancient church of Saint Hripsime, which stands near Armenia’s modern capital of Yerevan. Having withstood 14 centuries of upheaval, Saint Hripsime serves as a symbol of the endurance, perseverance, and resilience of the Armenian people. The cornerstone of Saint Sarkis was laid in 2018, 14 centuries after Saint Hripsime was completed in 618 AD.
From this brief, Hotson developed a design that looks forward as well as backward, marrying ancient architectural and artistic traditions reflecting Armenia’s cultural legacy as the world’s first Christian nation with contemporary digitally-driven design and fabrication technologies. His design recreates the scale and proportions of Saint Hripsime but modifies the exterior openings and interior spatial volumes to fill the sanctuary with indirect natural light. The result is an ethereal vessel of naturally illuminated space which suspends the memory of centuries of Armenian tradition over the modern congregation.
In addition to providing a place of worship for the Dallas-area Armenian community, Saint Sarkis was developed to serve as a memorial to victims of the Armenian genocide and as a place of pilgrimage for the international Armenian diaspora.
The Saint Sarkis project consists of a three-building campus on five acres in Carrolton, outside Dallas. Its centerpiece is the 250-seat church, which is approached through a shaded entry courtyard positioned between the athletic and community center buildings. The campus also includes an athletic building and a community center building with a 400-person event hall, parish hall, classrooms, and clerical offices.
The solid gray mass of the church exterior, rendered in modern materials, references the monolithic sculptural character of ancient Armenian churches, which were constructed entirely of stone. The juxtaposition against the rich multicolored vegetation, envisioned and implemented by landscape designer Zepur Ohanian, evokes the powerful relationship between monolithic architecture and verdant landscape that is typical of the ancient churches and monastery complexes that still survive throughout the Armenian homeland.
Western Memorial Facade
The western façade that surrounds the entrance to the church serves as a subtle but powerful memorial to the victims of the Armenian genocide.
Clad with porcelain panels covered with an intricate design printed at extremely high resolution, the façade presents the viewer with a layered visual experience. Seen from a distance, the façade depicts a traditional Armenian cross or “tree of life” with distinctive floral branching arms, a powerful Armenian symbol of faith in the face of suffering and of resurrection and redemption. Viewed more closely as the visitor approaches the church, the cross is seen to be composed of interwoven botanical and geometrical motifs drawn from Armenian art, representing the bonds of ancestry and tradition that have bound the Armenian community together across centuries of challenge and upheaval. Examined from still closer proximity, the entire façade is seen to be covered by individual icons or pixels, each one centimeter (or about 3/8”) in diameter.
These tiny icons—1.5 million in total—cover the entire church façade. All icons are derived from the circular emblems that recur throughout the Armenian artistic tradition, but each icon is unique and individual.
Individually and collectively, these 1.5 million unique icons memorialize the 1.5 unique individuals murdered in the Armenian genocide—and the scale of the individual icons spreading across the entire building façade offers a powerful reminder of the scale of this historical atrocity.
David Hotson worked with Yerevan-trained architectural designer Ani Sahakyan on the overall façade design. A computer script was then developed in the office by architectural designer Ben Elmer to generate 1.5 million unique icons or pixels based on ancient Armenian ornamental motifs. These icons were scaled to fit a total of 1.5 million on the façade and were distributed according to density to form larger-scale patterns when viewed from a distance.
Collaboration with Fiandre
In conceiving and implementing the memorial façade Hotson, collaborated closely with Fiandre (part of Iris Ceramica Group) the innovative architectural surfaces manufacturer that has developed the revolutionary DYS (Design Your Slab) system that allows printing at extremely fine resolution on Fiandre’s large-format, exterior grade, UV-resistant porcelain rain screen panel materials. Fiandre fabricated the façade panels in their Italian factory to the exact pixel modules required by the façade and printed the intricate design through an exacting process that was halted as the Covid-19 pandemic caused total lockdown of Italian industry before resuming work and shipping the completed façade to Texas. The façade was installed by Graniti Vicentia Façades utilizing the proprietary Ventilated Façade System of Granitech – a division of Fiandre’s parent company Iris Ceramica Group dedicated to Ventilated Façade Systems.
In addition to the memorial façade, Fiandre supplied the full range of porcelain interior and exterior floor, wall and soffit finishes used throughout the Saint Sarkis Campus.
This is the first time that exterior grade high-resolution digital printing technology is used featuring such a complex and sophisticated façade design to optically engage the viewer in a series of visual scales nested inside each other, from the scale of an entire architectural façade to the scale of individual pixels each rendered in high-resolution at the threshold of visual perception.
Saint Sarkis Church Interior
The interior of the church extends the experience of communion with the traditions of the world’s most ancient Christian nation.
Upon stepping into the church through the memorial façade, the visitor emerges into the luminous sanctuary, a space of light-filled sculptural volumes modeled on the interior of Saint Hripsime. Openings sculpted into the exterior reflect the powerful Texas sunlight indirectly into the interior space, resulting in an ethereal quality of illumination. The doubly-curved plaster vaults that shape the interior space were fabricated in glass-fiber-reinforced gypsum directly from the architect’s computer model, through an innovative process developed by the Toronto-based manufacturer Formglas. The interior vaults are smooth and scaleless, with no visible lighting fixtures, air-conditioning registers or other contemporary technical details to interrupt the light-filled volumes of space.
The church is heated and cooled with a displacement climate control system, which uses a remotely located mechanical plant to introduce conditioned air at low velocity through floor registers located under the pews. The result is a silent interior, without any mechanical vibration or the ambient sound of a conventional high velocity air conditioning system, providing a silent backdrop for the reverberant acoustics of traditional Armenian choral music.
Saint Sarkis memorializes the extraordinary strength, longevity, depth, and resilience of Armenian Christianity. It is a luminous contemporary space which contains the memory of the ancient Armenian traditions. And it is a place of pilgrimage that remembers the individual victims of a monumental human rights atrocity.