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City Bible Church

Image: Monolithic Domes at City Bible Church have become one of Portland, Oregon’s landmarks. Located on a butte, the domes are clearly visible to people flying into the airport and folks driving by on the freeway.

Monolithic Domes at City Bible Church have become one of Portland, Oregon’s landmarks. Located on a butte, the domes are clearly visible to people flying into the airport and folks driving by on the freeway.

Image: City Bible Church — This Monolithic Dome church has a diameter of 230 feet and seating for 3,000 worshipers.  That seating is designed to focus on the center platform.
Image: Aerial View — Built on a butte and clearly visible by people driving or flying into Portland, City Bible Church has become somewhat of a landmark.

Instant recognition for domes, a landmark for the church

Since its opening in 1991, the two Monolithic Domes of City Bible Church have become somewhat of a landmark in Portland, Oregon. Art Johansen, facility administrator at City Bible, is very much in favor of that development.

“We’re in a unique setting,” Johansen says. “We’re up on a butte, so we are quite visible. People flying in see us coming into the airport, and people driving in see us from the freeway. There’s an instant recognition of the domes, but many people don’t know what we are. A laboratory? An airport facility? What? So they come in and find out.”

What the curious discover

They discover a huge, two-story Monolithic Dome, 230 feet in diameter and 75 feet high, that encompasses a sanctuary with seating for 3000, centered about a platform with seating for another 200.

“That platform is probably bigger than many whole churches,” Johansen says. “Behind it, we have a choir room, orchestra room, bathrooms and a recording studio.”

A grand drape partitions the platform so that two events can go on simultaneously, or the platform’s back portion can be closed off and only the front used. Individual speakers as well as groups of players use the gigantic stage. Johansen says, “We do dramatic presentations – a couple of them most years. A big one we’ve done is called Eternity. It runs for a week at a time, and we have a full house every weeknight. Then we might do several performances during the weekend to nearly full houses.”

The presentations are audio and video taped, mostly for closed-circuit broadcasting into other areas within the facility, and some for radio broadcasting. Johansen says, “We are looking into getting into television in the future, but we aren’t there yet.”

The acoustical challenge

Obviously, such programs require good acoustics. “That’s a challenge in a dome,” Johansen says. “Sound in a dome does tend to rumble round. We’re improving the acoustics all the time. Our dome surfaces and ceiling have been acoustically treated.”

Comfort and serenity

City Bible currently has a church membership of 8500. They have two Sunday morning services with an attendance of about 1500 at the first and 2000 at the second. Despite body heat and/or the weather, Johansen says it’s easy to maintain a comfortable temperature in the dome. We set it (the thermostat) and forget it."

“We’re on the Columbia River gorge, on a butte,” he continues. “The east wind combines with ocean weather, so we do get ice storms – but they don’t affect the domes. In the summer we average in the upper eighties, usually with about a week of hundred-degree temperatures. Our winters are very wet and overcast. Heating is not much of an issue, unless we get temperatures below freezing with strong winds. We use air conditioning the majority of the time.”

Johansen says he has no hard facts to prove it, but experience with conventional structures and energy use tell him, “…we are saving money with Monolithic Domes. It’s my gut feeling.”

A busy church

In addition to the sanctuary, City Bible’s two-story, larger dome houses a Kindergarten through Grade Twelve school, nurseries and offices. The smaller dome, also with two stories, includes a gym, a commercial kitchen, additional classrooms and a library at its center. On its thirty-three-acre campus, City Bible Church also maintains facilities for its Portland Bible College and various programs that minister to the needs of the community.

Such activity creates a lot of interest, as do the Monolithic Domes. Johansen says, “The domes have done well for us. They are very attractive, and our neighbors have no objection to them. Often, it’s curiosity about what the domes are that brings people in – and that’s not bad for a church.”

Note: Article originally printed in Monolithic’s Summer 2000 Roundup.