First Presbyterian Church of Encino


Encino, CA
5,700 SF
Richard Barnes
Project Team
Trevor Abramson, FAIA
Douglas Teiger, AIA

Hands Cupped in Prayer

At the First Presbyterian Church of Encino, form, light and material were sculpted to create a space that would heighten the sense of closeness and reverie. In the transformation of this 1954 building, the primary symbol in the design is light as a metaphor for divinity. The design team was inspired by medieval ecclesiastical paintings depicting the Virgin Mary’s hands cupped in prayer. They envisioned using this curved form in the ceiling of the sanctuary, with the spaces between the crossed fingers allowing filtered light into the church.

Light is shaped in three movements that take on a procession of enlightenment. The first represents entering the house of God, as light filters from above the narthex with no apparent source. The second is the light of the congregation in worship, which includes large openings to the North that fill the space with tender light that is representative of the love and charity of God.

The third is the most brilliant and varied. Light flows directly down the curved surfaces of the sanctuary, illuminating the full form of the church. The multiplicity of openings in concert with the curved surfaces creates a symphony of light. This allows the perspective view of the symmetrical space to become subservient to the larger issues of changing light, temporal light, and the procession toward the chancel. The presence of the cross rising becomes the highest focal point.