On Easter Sunday of 1980, Saddleback Valley Community Church held its very first public service, with 205 people in attendance. This service began one of the most exciting journeys of growth that any church has experienced in American history. In more than two decades of ministry in South Orange County, Saddleback Church has grown to become one of the largest congregations in the United States. One in nine people in the area calls Saddleback their church home. In addition, Saddleback Church has more than two hundred ministries serving the church and community and has provided training for over 200,000 church leaders.

To meet this tremendous growth and diverse use, the church has been expanding its 100-acre campus in suburban Orange County. R/Hdo is providing Master Planning and Landscape architectural design services for the entire expansion program.
The first project initiated in the expansion program was the three-building Children’s Ministry center complex. The complex consists of three buildings, providing space for classrooms, pre-school and nursery programs and multi-purpose functions. Integral in the design of the complex is a series of unique play environments, which will also be used as settings for religious training and education.

Working with the Children’s Ministry Pastor, 24 themes were developed for integration into the “discovery areas.” Two distinct play areas were created – one for the pre-school age children and one for the five to ten year olds. An Ark with pairs of animals marching in unison was used for the preschool play area. The other play area was themed using the Mediterranean Sea. Play structures resemble sailboats; docks and play structures were created to resemble a wharf. SAF-DEK paving, colored the deep blue tones of the sea, reaches out to Jonah and the Whale. The 35-foot long whale, covered in gray SAF-DEK, spouts mist while “swimming” in a rolling sea of SAF-DEK. Behind the whale, a waterfall fills a meandering stream and provides another play activity.

Elsewhere in the complex children will discover labyrinths, building walls, a maze, and Zacchaeus’s tree. Other activities include a 200-foot long meandering stream, a 35-foot overlook built on a made man rock outcropping surrounded by mature oak trees, a waterfall and the Garden of Eden.

The next project provided space for distributing religious texts and other materials. The Resource Center, sited adjacent to the Worship center plaza, provides covered and uncovered outdoor seating areas with views to the future Grand Park.
In order to improve access and meet parking demands, the lower campus improvement project includes a new vehicular entry and three surface parking lots, which will later be converted to parking garages.

In conjunction with these improvements is a new plaza designed to access a tower element. This tower will serve the future parking garages and provide an elevated pedestrian bridge as a link to the main campus via the Grand Promenade. Streetscapes for the new roadways incorporate meandering segmental walls planted with flowering vines and ground covers, and freestanding stone garden walls. Special LED lighting is being incorporated into the wall cap of the stone walls to highlight these features during nighttime viewing. In addition, a new entry feature consisting of a series of terraced walls, along with a dramatic water feature, will highlight the church to the surrounding community.

Future improvements, currently under design include a Teen Zone and a new Chapel. The Teen Zone, intended to complement the Children’s Ministry Center will provide meeting and activity space for young adults to call their own. Indoor and outdoor recreation areas will include a rockscape waterfall; sand beaches; sand volleyball courts; rock climbing walls; a pine forest camping area; and a skate park. The Chapel will overlook a small lake and the native landscape of the Aliso Creek Regional Park and Trail.

Location: City of Lake Forest

Role: Master Planner and Landscape Architect

Architect: Burghard Design Group, Saddleback Development Corporation (staff architects), Choate Architects, and MDR Architects

Owner: Saddleback Church

Budget: $4,350,000

Date of Completion: 2007