Higher Ground

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture design 72,000-square-foot Church in Glenview, Illinois

Architecture Midwest News
Willow Creek Church takes cues from the shape of the mustard seed. (Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture)
Willow Creek Church takes cues from the shape of the mustard seed. (Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture)

Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture may be best known for its supertalls, but even though one of the office’s current constructions, Willow Creek North Shore Church, is quite the opposite, it will still have its congregation looking up.

The 72,000-square-foot project in Glenview, Illinois, just north of Chicago, is one of eight Willow Creek ministries located throughout the greater Chicago area. Currently under construction, completion is scheduled for fall 2016.

Willow Creek North Shore Church

Well under construction, Willow Creek is beginning to show the sweeping gestures that will define its form. (Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture)

“Although we are specialists in the design and technology of super tall towers and complex sustainable master planning, we enjoy designing at all scales and typologies,” Adrian Smith, design partner and founder of AS+GG, told The Architect’s Newspaper. “Many of our buildings have smaller components to them, and most of our work is mixed-use, so designing a church, a school, a performing arts venue or a congress hall is all part of what we do.”

The mustard seed, a recurring reference in the Bible, inspired the overall shape. It symbolizes strong faith and fellowship of the congregation. It was also used as a guiding principle in connecting the project to its surroundings. “The goal of the space was to have nature as the backdrop for every room,” Willow Creek North Shore Lead Pastor Steve Gillen said in a press release.


Though the project is well above the ground now, and the final form of the building is becoming clear, the first months of construction were focused on site work. The entire building site was lifted five to eight feet, providing a gentle plateau to support the building. A large retention pond was also created and mimics the shape of the church. A 700-car parking lot was built to accommodate the large congregation.

When completed, the church will include a 1,200-seat auditorium, adult ministry spaces, classrooms, a cafe, and administration offices. Two large oval-shaped courtyards flank the central sanctuary. These plazas flow seamlessly into the interior spaces to provide additional areas for funerals, weddings, and informal events with direct access to the cafe. There are several gathering spaces, including a large sky-lit preassembly area, designed into the project. “The gentle curve of the circulation paths allows occupants to flow through the space, while enjoying views of the outside,” Smith explained.

Willow Creek North Shore Church

(Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture)

Many areas of the project are designed specifically to allow for flexible programming. The administrative offices will function as workplaces throughout the week,
while providing extra ministry spaces and classrooms on the weekend. The cafe can be used as a more casual meeting and gathering space on weekends as well.

More than simply a place of worship, the Willow Creek North Shore is a project built around a community, for a community. Its generous spaces and ability
to transform fill a need for the ever-growing congregation and church administration. And though it does not reach the tall heights of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill’s other buildings, the firm’s signature form and style are undeniable.

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