White Memorial Presbyterian Church

Raleigh, North Carolina
Creating Sacred Spaces



As the campus of White Memorial Presbyterian Church has expanded over the last few decades, GFBA has become a trusted partner in the church’s development. GFBA has assisted the church with numerous projects including the construction of children’s playgrounds, sidewalk and streetscape improvements, and renovations to the church’s central courtyard. In 2000, White Memorial received a Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Community Appearance in recognition of the “well-designed walls, walks, planted area and play areas [that] have become a community commons where friends and neighbors can meet and converse.”


One project of particular note is the construction of the church’s memorial garden and columbarium.


Creating a private space in the midst of such a high traffic area required careful consideration and expertise.

White Memorial is located on a narrow wedge of property bordered by three neighborhood streets. The church wished to locate the memorial garden immediately adjacent to the sanctuary. This brought the proposed garden within 20’ of the street at the northern end. Further, the street provides much of the church’s parking, and the adjacent sidewalk is the main route to the church’s front entry. Creating a private space in the midst of such a high traffic area required careful consideration and expertise.


For inspiration, GFBA looked to the cloister gardens of medieval monasteries. These walled gardens were typically rectangular in shape and divided into four sections by perpendicular bisecting walks. The walls provided seclusion from the outside world, and the simple geometric layout within created a sense of structure and order. GFBA adopted these principles for the design of the memorial garden.


The pavements and structures within the garden are made of brick, maintaining the connection to the brick used in the surrounding walkways and the church exterior. Parallel brick pathways divide the garden, and the two halves of the columbarium face each other at opposite ends of a perpendicular walk. The symmetrical spaces created by the intersecting walkways are planted with shade trees and clipped shrubs surrounded by low seat walls. Rather than enclose the garden completely, the garden perimeter was constructed of columns and iron fencing to allow cooling breezes to flow through. Additional separation between the garden and the sidewalks was created by raising the interior level of the garden and planting additional shrubs around the perimeter.  


GFBA’s simple, elegant design for the memorial garden created a unique place for meditation and contemplation. The congregation cherishes the garden for its inspiration and serenity.


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