Tulsa’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church a Departure from Classical Byzantine Architecture
On Architecture by ROGER COFFEY, AIA
WORSHIP SPACE: The interior of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church at 1222 S. Guthrie Ave. in Tulsa.
SHARON CAMERON for GTR Newspapers
The Greek Orthodox Church has a long history in Christianity. Some date its present beginnings to the 1054 AD “Great Schism” when it separated from the Catholic Church. Others would put this date much earlier. Regardless, this faith has developed church buildings with a distinct character in its more than 1,000-year history. The resulting architectural style is often called Byzantine. A key church that reflects this style is Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which is so well known that it is almost a symbol of the Greek Orthodox faith. Other famous Greek Orthodox Church buildings would be St. Mark in Venice and St. Basil in Moscow.
Tulsa is the home of at least three Greek Orthodox congregations. Among these is Holy Trinity Church at 1222 S. Guthrie Ave. Built in three phases, the original building was finished in 1968. It was designed by Architect Russ McGee and built by Dyer Construction. Soon after it was finished, it received a design award by the Eastern Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The second phase was seamlessly attached to the original building and finished in 2000. It incorporates a covered drop off. Its lower roof line respects and pays homage to the adjacent first phase building. The third phase which is a family-life wing has a starkly contrasting appearance and was designed by GH2 Architects. This phase features store-front glass arches and main facades finished in light cream colored limestone laid in a random ashlar pattern.
The first phase is the worship space for Holy Trinity and incorporates some of the classic elements of Byzantine church architecture. Other parts of this space have a very different identity.
Most noticeable is the dome finished in standing seam copper and partially located above the nave and the isolea (raised platform). Unlike traditional Byzantine churches, this church is rectangular not cruciform in plan. A strong theme of curved corners repeats throughout the structure and is most evident in its brick walls. The walls inside and out are a dark red brick. At exterior and interior corners, the brick becomes a 2”x2” square brick tile which enhances the curves. Two tall, narrow stained glass windows on the north and south are the principal outside light for the nave. At the exterior, these have a projecting brick collar which surrounds a half round sill and head. Roof scuppers feature a similar projecting brick collar. Once again these repeat the curved design theme.
At the west end of the isolea is a beautifully painted iconostasis or icon screen wall which is part of a more recent remodeling dome in 2013. In keeping with Greek Orthodox beliefs, there is no sculpture in the church.
At the east end of the nave is a clear glass partition articulated with a hardwood grid. It divides the nave from the narthex beyond and provides more natural light from exterior glazing.
The overall orientation of Holy Trinity is the reverse of classic Byzantine custom where the narthex would be at the west end and the isolea and sanctuary beyond the iconostasis would be at the east end.
Another noticeable difference from Byzantine architecture is the small freestanding camanie. Byzantine churches traditionally have no bell tower. Located at the southeast corner of the site, two brick pylons rise to support a steel beam from which hangs a bell. Below is an event directory at pedestrian eye level. A Greek cross is mounted at the top of the beam.
The design of Holy Trinity is an excellent example of a very simple building using mainly one material, brick, by a talented architect. Someday Holy Trinity’s congregation may outgrow its worship space and require something different. But a precedent for quality design has certainly been set.