St David’s Church, Holloway was originally built in 1866-9 by architect E.L. Blackburne, but was substantially re-built in 1935-6 following a fire. It is a locally listed building, i.e., deemed of architectural and historical significance by the local authority (London Borough of Islington); it is one of the few monuments to provide stability in an area where the majority of the buildings were redeveloped in the post-war rebuilding/ slum clearance programme. Its parish was merged with the adjacent Parish of St Mary Magdalene in 1984, though a Greek Orthodox congregation who had previously shared the church with the Anglicans continued to use the building until they obtained premises of their own in 2004.
When the premises became vacant, the congregation of St David’s, who had been meeting in their adjoining old church Hall, were keen to reclaim the building, to house a new church and to accommodate their various community projects. The Hall was sold and developed as housing, to finance this project for the extended-use of the church building. In effect, the brief was to take all the original functions from the church hall and place them within the volume of the existing, vacant original church building. Matthew Lloyd Architects was appointed by the Parochial Church Council, led by their very innovative minister who, prior to ordination, had worked as a buildings surveyor. There follows a more detailed discussion of the project at St David’s Holloway, North London.
Traditionally, town churches sit within open grounds, perhaps on a “church square”, within a garden or a graveyard. St David’s however is situated within a linear street of predominantly Victorian buildings, with its strong gable end marking its presence and distinguishing it from its neighbours. Its existing, non-original lean-to porch was uninviting, and at odds with the regular geometry of the street. A new stone-clad porch of slimmer dimensions and contemporary proportions is carefully positioned under the existing high level window and gives the building’s frontage a sense of grandeur that the church had previously lost. Its vertical proportions, combined with those of the window above, lift the façade and offer the opportunity for a large opening into the church itself, while its geometry conveys a sense of belonging to the fabric of the street and the city beyond.
The central challenge of this project was the retention of a beautiful worship space within the new framework of social activity. The interior design concentrates on the sequence of spaces experienced when entering the building. The stone-clad front porch leads onto a double height entrance hall via seamless wall and floor finishes. The hallway acts as a transitional space between the busy outside world and the spiritual atmosphere of the worship hall, giving time for visitors to collect their thoughts before proceeding further. This transition is reinforced by the contrast between the dark smooth cladding of the entrance and the bright textured finishes of the worship space, signifying entry into the Light.
Stepping into the worship space should inspire a sense of awe and sacredness; the space is light and airy, yet intimate and inviting in size and proportion. The traditional Greek cross shape has been retained, with the chancel to the east. All the original features are kept, though some columns and arches are concealed to allow a seamless relationship between the new and existing geometries. The cladding is of a textured surface resembling flowing water, a symbol of purity. Light flows through the original high clerestory, creating shadowy patterns as it falls and evoking an atmosphere of meditation and contemplation.
The ground floor includes a double-height prayer room, where visitors can seclude themselves for silent reflection, without going further into the building. A new vestry links the worship space to the church office, with a new reception desk in the entrance hall. The entrance hall also serves as a community café, with counters that can open into it from the new kitchen. The entrance hall also serves community administration and meeting rooms on the newly created first floor. A bridge links the two wings across the hallway, and offers elevated views outward to the street, or down into the worship space below. A large meeting room on the second floor benefits from the magnificent front window and open roof space. A new basement has been created beneath the original church nave to accommodate a 6th Form College for the local Church of England secondary school; the addition of this function opened up additional funding for the building works. This flexible, open space is used in the evenings by the local youth club, and includes ancillary computer and music rooms and a kitchen. Side access has been created to provide a formal entrance to the 6th Form College / Youth Club.
The construction of the final design is now 50% complete; the building will open for use in September 2013. This new model of development – ‘church-intensification’ – is becoming increasingly relevant to churches in the United Kingdom, combating under-use and responding to falling congregations, rising costs, and limited public and charitable funding.
Matthew Lloyd Architects LLP