Invited to submit a proposal ten days before the deadline – at the last minute suggestion of one of the original architects, Ed Sovik – we rushed to Willmar to visit Vinje. The church is a 1961 landmark that defines the horizon in Willmar. Upon walking into the Sanctuary, we knew that the project aligned with our firm’s skills and mission. It fit the short list of goals that direct the firm’s efforts; namely, working within farming communities similar to those in which we were raised, and designing projects with the potential for meaning and substance. For four years, we worked intimately with the 12-member Property Committee and Church Council at Vinje to:

1. Design the Master Planning process

2. Organize sharing sessions and draft questionnaires to solicit responses from each member of the congregation wanting to participate (Vinje has a decentralized church hierarchy)

3. Produce a comprehensive Master Plan aligning the design intent of any future changes to the building with the church’s Mission Statement

4. Organize events and prepare multiple presentations to the congregation

5. Produce construction drawings for the restoration, renovation, and updates to the iconic circular Sanctuary

6. Produce construction documents for the renovation of the remaining 30,000 square feet, as well as 4,500 square feet of new space at the west entrance

Preliminary designs included a geothermal plant, a “green screen” for the western façade, and a mandate to focus on sustainably-produced and locally fabricated fixtures and finishes. 

The signature character of the existing church building drove the design on the one hand, yet a new architectural concept was required to contrast the fortress-like feel of the existing building. Our design is sensitive yet departs from the rigidity of the existing building, using the church Mission Statement as a roadmap on how and why to pierce the unwelcoming exterior, opening Vinje to Willmar in order to intensify the church’s relationship within its community.