First Christian Church was founded in 1952. Because of the rapid growth of the congregation, the church moved from central Phoenix to its present location in north-central Phoenix. The church continued to grow and needed to build again.
The search began for a design for the new Worship Center. In 1949, the Southwest Christian Seminary in Phoenix had commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a Classical University. The drawings for this University were completed and made public in 1950. Drawings included a chapel, administrative buildings, seminar rooms, library, Greek theatre, faculty homes, and were designed for eighty acres.
Because the Seminary ceased its operation, the University was never built. The leadership of First Christian church knew of the unused plans and obtained permission from Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow to use them for their new building.
The construction of the new Worship Center began in 1971. It was completed in 1973, with the church occupying the building in February of that year. The building has been called “One of the ten best church buildings ever built in America” by Harold Wagoner, a former Dean of the Church Architects Guild of America.
Mr. Wright's philosophy was that a building in the shape of a triangle was a building in the attitude of prayer. Accordingly, the Worship Center was designed as a double triangle, or diamond shape. It offers a place of worship with only walls of glass.
As you enter the building and lobby, there is a low overhead (a common Frank Lloyd Wright characteristic) of rough concrete and native stone, Mr. Wright's favorite building materials in the West. To the left, by the cornerstone, is the red tile with Mr. Wright's signature imprinted, authenticating the fact that the building is an original FLW design.
The building rests on twenty-three triangular pillars of concrete and steel, representing the Trinity. Wright saw them as desert trees.
The roof and spire rise seventy-seven feet and are supported by the 23 slender pillars. The "lantern", as Mr. Wright called it, extends from one side of the building to the other. Both it and the spire are spectacular when viewed from the exterior of the building at night. The stained glass in the spire and lantern were shipped to Tempe, Arizona, and were cut and formulated by the Greice Brothers. The deep blue and ruby red are from France; the soft blue and orange are from Italy; the purple and green are from Belgium; and the remainder of the glass is American.
The building seats three hundred twenty comfortably, yet no seats are further than eighty-three feet from the pulpit. The construction cost for the worship center, landscaping and parking was $1.2 million in the early 70’s.
The spire on top of the worship center, which is seventy-seven feet tall, appears from any vantage point to be a triangle. The spire has four sides, any two of which are equal to the other two.
There are twenty tons of native stone in the overhead of the lobby and entry to the sanctuary.
The exterior of the worship center, lighted at night by each fluted column, received a National Lighting Prize the first month the building was occupied.
The stained glass window behind the baptistery is titled, "Regenesis" and is symbolic of the new life of a person baptized into Christ. Central in the window is the cactus-shaped cross, which comes out of the traditional "hot" colors of red, orange, and yellow. These colors represent pride, prejudice, lust, anger, etc. The cross then rises through the brown, the traditional color of the earth, signifying that "as in Adam, all die." The cross also rises through the blue, the traditional color of the church, symbolizing that "so in Christ are all made alive."
Throughout the cross is seen the ruby red symbolic of the shed blood of Christ. The arms of the cross lift up, based upon John 12:32, "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." The arms reach toward the gold crown at the top of the window. Gold is the traditional color of heaven. Thus, the uplifting cross is the bridge between the old life and the new life promised by Christ in John 10:10, "I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly."
The 120-foot bell tower, which is free standing, is one of the most unique structures Mr. Wright ever designed. It was built and dedicated in 1978. It has four sides, each of which is unequal to the other three. It contains six hundred and eight thousand pounds (304 tons) of concrete, stone, and steel, and has no inward supporting structure. The cross on top of the Bell Tower is twenty-two feet in height, and the tower appears to be a triangle from any vantage point.
The second half of the Wright design is connected to the Worship Center to the north. This addition houses the church office, library, meeting rooms, classrooms, and music rehearsal facilities. It was erected in 1979, completing the original plan. The cost was one million dollars, not including furnishings.