The creativity of church architects

Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Bob Allies one of the judges for the UK Church Architecture Awards writes about the vital role of the commissioners of church architecture.

Two major repair and restoration projects won the 2019 UK Church Architecture Awards. The Awards are run by the National Churches Trust and the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association (EASA).

Presidents’ award

A project by Roz Barr Architects to restore and refurbish St Augustine’s Roman Catholic church, an unlisted Edwardian church in Hammersmith, London, won the 2019 Presidents’ Award, given for new church buildings and new designs in re-ordering, alteration, or extension.  The project has already won the 2018 RIBA London Award and the 2018 RIBA National Award. 

King of Prussia Gold Medal

The King of Prussia Gold Medal for repair and conservation architecture was awarded to PPIY architects for their work on St Margaret’s church, Thimbleby, Lincolnshire.

Bob Allies, a founding partner at Allies and Morrison, the architecture and urban planning practice based in London, and one of the judges for the UK Church Architecture Awards, spoke about the projects at a ceremony held at the church of St Mary Magdalene in Paddington, London on Thursday, 31 October  2019. He said:

"Of the twenty-five projects submitted for this year’s award, seven - as you have seen - were shortlisted for consideration by a panel of judges, of which I was once again this year, fortunate enough to be a member."

"What unites all the shortlisted schemes is the extraordinary level of care and creativity that has gone into them, not only into their design and execution, but also – and I think it’s an important point to make here - into their commissioning."

"On occasions such as this when we are so focused on the final physical outcome of a project – the carefully restored interior, the skilful insertion, the radical rethink, the ingenious extension or sometimes the entirely new building – we must also remember the significance of the extended - and complex, and, it must be said, often fraught - process that has given rise to them."

"And particularly, I think in this regard we should recognise and applaud the imagination and the diligence shown by the clients firstly in articulating the aims and aspirations at the start of the project, and secondly in setting about the process of choosing their architect."

"Suffice it to say, that the clients for all the projects here clearly made excellent choices: they found the best architect they could, an architect they could trust, and one who would realise the best possible design."

"But if all the shortlisted projects share common qualities of care and creativity, they could not be more different from each other in the sorts of problems they had been asked to solve and in the ways in which they responded to the challenges they were set. Except, I suggest, in one key respect."

"Because in their different ways, what all these projects have engaged with is the same, central issue of how, in response to changing aspirations and changing needs, to rethink, or restructure, or reimagine the place of worship, without in any way sacrificing the symbolic power of the form or - where there is an existing structure - the integrity of the historic fabric."

"For churches, like cities, have to evolve to survive. They have to reflect and satisfy the changing needs of the communities they serve. They are working buildings: they have a job to do."

"New spaces are required. New functions have to be accommodated. New access arrangements have to be made. More flexibility is needed in order to allow more different things to happen."

"These are practical problems that need not only sensitive and elegant solutions, but which also require the selection, or development, of an appropriate aesthetic, a way of making, of detailing, of utilising material, to allow the new to sit happily alongside the old. Or in the case of one of our projects, a way of integrating the body of a church into the core of a residential building."

"But amongst the shortlisted projects, one scheme stood out not because it did the practical things better than the others, but because, as one of my fellow judges put it, it created, out of perhaps the most modest of circumstances, a truly sacred space. Form, material, light and colour combine to transform an unpromising interior into something really remarkable. An extraordinary achievement for which the architect – and the client – are to be congratulated."