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Divine design: five ground-breaking religious spaces

A selection of faith-centric projects that exemplify creativity and innovation in design.


3 min read

Scott Whitby Studio transforms Westminster Chapel

One of London’s most significant religious properties, Westminster Chapel, has been transformed from an outdated place of worship into a triple-tiered space that can accommodate up to 1500 people. After living in-residency for 10 days and interviewing a huge number of community residents – many of whom believed the building was vacant – Scott Whitby Studio conceptualised a new vision for the historic building.

For flexibility, pews have been replaced with moveable chairs and, upstairs on the balconies, two rows of seating now overlook a newly constructed stage. To enhance sound quality a 600 sq m cork floor, touted by the studio as “one of the largest in Europe”, has been fitted along with acoustic panelling on the walls.

Careful to preserve traditional detailing, Scott Whitby accentuated original features inside the chapel such as Victorian hand-operated vents, with delicate handles in the shape of hands, as well as wrought-iron columns.

Photography: Jim Stephenson

The UK’s first green mosque by Marks Barfield Architects

A solution to a capacity problem for the existing Cambridge Mosque, Marks Barsfield Architects created a truly sustainable and inclusive new building inspired by Islamic and English religious architecture traditions. Providing a spiritual cultural centre not only for those practicing but also the wider community, the concept positions the mosque as ‘a calm oasis within a grove of trees.’

A defining feature of the mosque is its timber structure, with CLT (cross-laminated timber) columns supporting the roof, using an interlaced octagonal lattice vault structure that nods to English Gothic architecture. Geometric art features throughout the external and internal tiling – hand drawn by Professor Keith Critchlow, an expert in sacred architecture and Islamic geometry.

“Above all, we sought to develop the idea of a British mosque for the 21st century,” the practice describes.

Photography: Morley von Sternberg

Piercy & Co and a contemporary vision for International Presbyterian Church, Ealing

Keen to increase flexibility as a venue and volume capabilities, while looking architecturally striking, the International Presbyterian Church, Ealing (IPC) approached design and architecture practice Piercy & Co to create an extended chapel.

Camden-based Piercy & Co expanded the West London interior in size, creating room for approximately 250 people in an inviting and light-filled space, with evolved visual cues. Streamlined design and a sensitive material selection result in an uncluttered extension which has transformed the Grade II listed building into a modern place of worship.

The chapel roof’s origami-style appearance references pitched roofs in the surrounding area, with the crisp angles and folds translated through to the interior. Constructed from steel framing and cross-laminated timber in prefabricated panels, the geometric folds and peaks also serve a symbolic role, emphasising the structure’s spiritual function.

Photography: Tom Lee

Field Architecture champions salvaged wood at Kol Emeth synagogue

One of the world’s first LEED Platinum synagogues, Kol Emeth consists of three structures that contain a sanctuary, classrooms, offices, social hall and garden – framed by a reclaimed timber lattice that wraps around the buildings. The practice used skylights, clerestory windows and full-length sliding glass walls to filter natural light and provide optimal daylight and temperature control throughout the space.

In the sanctuary, a dramatic undulating wooden canopy generates dynamic lighting that changes with the movement of the sun. Furniture and flooring are made from natural materials such as oak, birch and stone to further heighten the physical and visual connection to the outside world.

Photography: Joe Fletcher

Max Lamb’s uplifting interior of St John Chrysostom Church, Peckham

British furniture designer Max Lamb uplifted the interior of St John Chrysostom Church in Peckham with the addition of a new altar, sanctuary floor, altar candleholders and a Paschal candleholder – the latter being synonymous within western Christianity.

Lamb constructed the altar and candleholders from Portland stone, contrasting with the brick wall backdrop of the church, as well as nodding to one of the former onsite churches which was made of the same material. Comprising four slabs of Portland stone held together using slot joints, the altar is inserted into the church walls using a fifth slab. In each corner where the legs meet cross motifs are featured, and the base has been designed so the parish priest can stand close by.

Noting that cork was not in use elsewhere, Lamb stripped the flooring back to its former glory by polishing the concrete found underneath. Amplified using artificial lighting, the floor now complements the church’s original features including stained-glass and concrete windows, and a large concrete base for the organ pipes.

Photography: James Harris

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