Calvary Baptist Church

People: Gunnar Birkerts

Date: 1977

City: Detroit

Calvary Baptist Church, Detroit. Image courtesy of Anthony Lockhart.

“The Calvary Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, was designed in 1974 and completed in 1977. The strong, sculpturesque shape of the building, with its vibrant, orange, ribbed, panel cladding, attests to the monumentality and simplicity of form and innovative use of surface materials for which Mr. Birkerts is renowned. His ability to understand the personality and culture of his clients is also evident in his focus on the interior of the church, where he provides an immense, mirrored wall which faces the African American congregation and reflects its vitality and exuberance. The interactive quality of the mirror behind the linear, baptismal pool gives church members the sense that they have symbolically gathered on both sides of the Jordan River, where services were historically held. Thus, Mr. Birkerts metaphorically connects the expressive congregation with its past, while reflecting its optimism and strong, hopeful, religious conviction through this bold, vibrant building which rises from a green park adjacent to Detroit’s historic Elmwood Cemetery.” 

*Excerpted from Bund, Sally L. Finding Aid for Gunnar Birkerts and Associates Records, 1960-2005: The Calvary Baptist Church, Detroit, Michigan, 1974-1987. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.