Church of the Ascension & St. Agnes

Close-up render of church restoration

The Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes (ASA) is a cultural & architectural anchor at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue 12th Street NW and NW. When facing the prospect of several significant maintenance projects, the congregation reached out to EL Studio to develop a Master Plan that could balance their operational obligations with their dreams for architectural and programmatic improvement.  

The project implements the Master Plan whereby two elements – a Parish Center Addition and a 35-unit Housing Development – together provide for the restoration of the Church building and the ongoing financial stability of the parish.  

Diagram of church restoration masterplan

To create a new Parish Center, 1960s-era infill between the church (aligned parallel to 12th St) and the rowhome next door (aligned perpendicular to Massachusetts Ave) is removed, restoring the wedge-shaped space to its original function – a lightwell for the church’s western facade – plus much-needed program and circulation space.  

Currently, the sanctuary is ASA’s only accessible space. The new Parish Center connects the sanctuary to both levels of the undercroft, which host the congregation’s fellowship activities; the existing chapel; and a new administrative upper level behind the chapel roof. Below grade, the Parish Center accommodates new accessible bathrooms and a pre-function space supporting the church’s goal of creating community event space.  

Accessibility diagram of church restoration
Accessibility Diagram
Lighting Diagram

The Parish Center form bisects its wedge-shape footprint into two volumes: adjacent to the church restoration, a taller volume of structural glass and sloped skylights allows light to stream through the sanctuary’s western glazing and allows the church facade to remain visible from the exterior. Underneath the skylights, a monumental stair cascades along the stone buttresses. The secondary wedge volume makes a transition to the existing chapel, which is now a meeting space for the church vestry. A paramount design goal is the exposure of the church’s western facade – to light, to passersby, and as an experiential presence in the daily use of the church. 

The Housing component is the redevelopment of two Victorian rowhomes that the church currently owns and uses as a Parish House and Rectory. A 7-story plus penthouse addition is set well back from the street, preserving the preeminence of the historic fabric. The massing and materiality take their cues from the rowhomes, while supporting the need for efficient construction methodologies on a tight urban site.  

Overview render of church restoration