Building a new building has inherent risks because the needs for the future have considerable variability. Building a new UU church building has fewer constraints in some ways than other buildings in that there is more flexibility in what is being offered. Some buildings have greater limitations because of their function; a train station is different from a bus station and these are different from an airport terminal. They are all different even though their goal of moving people from one transportation system to another is the same. A church building has similar constraints and differences based in this case on the message that is intended to be communicated. A church is a community based on people sharing ideas.
There is a tendency when building a structure of boards and bricks to talk in terms of square feet of space needed for different functions. An office has a certain size, classrooms for toddlers versus six-year-olds have different sizes and needs than one for sixteen-year-olds, and these are different from a small discussion room, and that from a standard classroom, and that from a sanctuary and lecture hall. It seems people have a natural desire for bigger for all of these functions, but there is a downside in that the cost goes up rapidly as the size goes up and intimacy goes down. Another factor which isn’t discussed is that the usefulness for a particular function varies with the size of the room. For example, work groups function best for solving some problems in the four to six size range, and having this number of people in a corner of a lecture hall will probably stifle their fluid interaction, compared to a room that comfortably holds them together around a single table. To get the best out of people requires that they be in an appropriate space for the activities they are involved in doing. Lectures function better with larger groups and need larger rooms.
When stated this way the solution seems to be to have rooms of different sizes. Since smaller rooms cost less to construct it would make sense to have several of them. There could be a few medium-size rooms, and perhaps only one or two large rooms. All of these information-transfer rooms could be made as general purpose rooms. Of course there need to be some dedicated rooms for private activities such as an accounting office with lockable drawers and safes. Of course there needs to be a nice dedicated reverend’s study and counseling office. There needs to be janitor storage areas for cleaning materials and other unsightly tools and perhaps dangerous chemicals which must be locked away from children. There needs to be dedicated toilet rooms. And there needs to be dedicated, potentially lockable, storage closets for items related to particular activities. Those rooms and closets must be dedicated to their task, but meeting rooms may be more general in their function and these rooms can be adapted somewhat to the use intended at a given time. If three to five people are expected at a given function they will be happier and more productive if they can go to a small pleasant room and not be put into a standard classroom with twenty-five empty chairs surrounding them. The opposite is just as true, and a group that is expecting about thirty people for an event shouldn’t be expected to meet in a room permanently dedicated to their activity that only holds ten.
These general rooms should have a semi-open/semi-closed quality about them, such that it is easy for passers-by from other groups to look in and become part of the activity if they choose to, and yet the room is closed enough to feel private to those who are in there. The room should be instantly adaptable to the needs of the people who are actually there at a given moment by having items which are easily accessible and portable. It should be very convenient to bring in new tables and chairs, or remove them, at a moment’s notice.
Rooms that are dedicated to a specific function tend to keep people out; they become exclusive by being dedicated. Over the years people are often joining a group and leaving it, so the room should be easy to visit so potential new members may join in. Making it difficult for new people to visit a group, tends to make it shrink over time and be subject to shutting down. By being dedicated and thus exclusive they become subject to failure. Keeping the space and the group semi-open to new members joining makes it more robust and likely to have a more permanent and more fulfilling function. Making a room too specific to a particular use means that it doesn’t function well for any other use and therefore when that exact activity isn’t in play the room is useless and unused . Placing rooms along a hallway with doors will tend to isolate each activity and make it exclusive, but placing the rooms off a large central room with semi-open exposure at the back of the room to others will make them more inclusive.
Maximizing the likelihood of a room being used frequently means having it be useful and comfortable for many functions and avoiding having it be too specialized. Having different rooms sized to the number of people actually using at a given moment them makes them far more comfortable and therefore more used. As many of the activities will be small groups many of the rooms should be small. When the rooms are small in size they can be made of better materials. Also, if money is a consideration, by making the room small there will be more money left over for making everything of better quality, and making the building ecologically green, which will cost a little more at first but will save money over the years. And when they are used more often that will amortize the cost over a greater time of use.
Make plenty of small multi-use rooms with easy access and easy adaptability.