Church Design Tidbits: Balconies and Landscaping

In this article, we’ll give some design details for two unrelated, but important, features of your church project: balcony seating and landscaping.

Balcony seating

When designed correctly, balcony seating has some benefits that are worth considering. Balconies can solve the problem of future expansion as the congregation grows and can allow a church with limited land to expand “upward” rather than “outward.” In fan-shaped shrines, a balcony can increase the number of seats by almost 50%. A future balcony should be planned from the beginning with the main structure completed during the construction of the sanctuary. A removable wall can temporarily hide this unfinished space.

Many people assume that a balcony is always an inexpensive and smart way to expand. However, the floor system, structural structure, riser structure, handrails and multiple stairs are an additional expense that is not incurred when sitting on the main level. However, the main problem with balcony seating is rarely related to construction costs. Many people complain of feeling like spectators when sitting on a balcony, and balconies often do not offer good visibility or easy access to the altar area. Also, it’s just hard to see someone’s face at more than 65 feet. Since the line of sight is down, the balcony railings and the person in front row also block the view. Under-balcony seating issues can include columns, low ceilings, and poor sound or lighting.

Some good design elements include stairs or stadium seats on the sides with easy access to the main floor, two steps per row for increased visibility, high-back benches to alleviate the fear of falling forward, glass or narrow rails in the upper half of balcony walls and large screen video monitors or projection screens.


While landscaping can greatly increase the value, beauty, and comfort of a church site, most architecture firms do not provide detailed landscaping design in their scope of services unless specifically requested by the owner. Many jurisdictions will require a rudimentary landscaping plan consisting of a site plan indicating the location, type, and size of new and existing trees and shrubs, grass and mulch areas, as well as an erosion control plan. . It is now common for permitting authorities to require landscaping islands in parking areas based on the amount of pavement. These islands are usually located at the end of the parking lines. However, the landscaping of the islands can become an impediment to snow removal. In transitional yards (a green area that separates the church parking lot or buildings from adjoining residential or commercial properties), permitting authorities also require a screen of trees and shrubs.

Deciduous trees to the south and west of the building will shade and cool the church in the summer, but will let the sunlight warm through the bare branches in the winter. The church should select hardy plant types that require little maintenance. Be aware that the small shrubs being planted may grow too quickly to be placed near parking lots, sidewalks, and buildings.

The church should consider the benefits of good garden design. A skilled landscape architect can be hired to develop a landscaping master plan that can be developed over time as funding becomes available.

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