While there is some legitimacy to the question as to whether residential architecture should be contextual, fitting stylistically into the surrounding neighborhood, there is none of that when the new structure is a public building. While some people were shocked by the buildings at 1216 and 1220 Main St., designed by architects Andy Spatz and Matthew Barry, finding them totally non-contextual, the issue of contextuality is non-existent on their recently completed church remodeling at 1711 Simpson St. The building, as it should, stands out as a visually exciting, imaginative design solution.

It is not easy to do such a creative design job with a very low budget. The challenge of financial limitation can, however, serve as an inspiration to architects as imaginative as Mr. Spatz and his partner, Mr. Barry, prime designers on the project, who in this case disproved the notion that good design should cost a lot.

The congregation of 240 or so of Christ Temple MB Church, led by the Reverend Kenneth Cherry, survived for 26 years without a permanent home, using primarily the gymnasium of Family Focus nearby. It was like the wandering of the Hebrews in the desert before they entered the land of Canaan. When they turned for help to well-known area architect Mr. Spatz, he agreed and by default became their mortgage banker (the actual loan given by the North Shore Commercial Bank) as well as their architect. His only condition was that he and Mr, Barry have total design freedom. He also took the job without charging a fee for their architectural work, a beneficence he says he thinks he could not afford to repeat.

Having a free hand produced remarkable results, a boldly outstanding exterior of silver metal and brilliant red vertical siding cut in bold angles. The nave hangs over the remaining low brick building, resulting in clerestory windows that light up the nave. The interior echoes the brilliant color scheme of the exterior, with red and orange predominating.

To top it off, Mr. Spatz and Mr. Barry did everything at minimal expense, including interiors. They conducted the search themselves for affordable products such as chairs, lighting fixtures, pulpit, and the like. Most remarkably, they were successful in overseeing small, but important, elements lacking on so many buildings, such as ensuring that electric switch plates neatly line up instead of going in every direction as they often do. It was truly a labor of love.

Anyone who takes the opportunity to go over to 1711 Simpson St. and walk around this unique building will be rewarded.