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Faith buildings - not your usual development project

How often do you get to work for a spiritual organisation? Places of faith often have specific design requirements, and so does project handling and delivery. Innovative approaches are very much called for. Here's some insight from one of London's key architects in this field, Matthew Lloyd.

What does the typical project brief look like when designing and building spiritual places

Most religious clients come to us with little or no money. By definition, churches use any funds they have on their spiritual mission – rather than storing it up for possible development projects. What these organisations do have though is land and buildings – often in a poor state of order and repair. So, what these community clients need is physical renewal, rather than spiritual renewal!

How do church projects differ from other types of building projects? 

The difference is time. For our commercial and professional clients, a building project is normal day to day business. For churches, it’s often a ‘voyage into the unknown’. Committees need to be established; applications for seed funding made, so that the first feasibility studies can be created for the intended project; development partners are more often than not needed to bring in money and skills. Each one of these steps can take months – we’ve had church projects that have taken as long as 15 years to complete, although 5 years is perhaps the average.

What are design and material requirements for faith buildings?

Churches, when creating development projects, don’t want to lose out. They need to know - and indeed prove to the Charities Commission - that they haven’t ‘undersold’ their assets. So what they had to begin with in terms of floor area and function, is what they need to get back when buildings are completed. Mostly we need to create ‘enabling’ housing on the available land, to fund an overall mixed-use project – so space is squeezed to fit everything in and this in itself is always a design challenge. There are ways around this – for instance if a church used to have a church space and a separate sports hall, we can combine these into a single space – but only so long as the materiality and storage can cope with the requirements of these very different uses. Our Frampton Park Baptist Church project in Hackney I think ably demonstrates this kind of flexible design.

What are trends in this particular building sector? 

I have to say that brick cladding seems to me to be the exterior material of the moment. It comes in so many variations, is often UK made, able to be detailed in various ways and is very long lasting. But in contrast, interior timber makes a lot of sense now: for sustainability; for wellbeing –  people feel comfortable around natural materials; flooring of course; acoustic panelling – so important in public and congregational spaces.

Finally, to return to Frampton Park – here a CLT primary structure was used to increase speed and reduce the developer’s risk for a building-type they hadn’t done before. This has proved very successful and is widely liked by the church’s lay people: I can see us proposing this format again for our forthcoming new church buildings – of which we currently have several ‘on the drawing board’.

Further information

Read our feature article on spiritual places using wood.

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