19.11.2015

Roz Barr Architects’ reveals proposals for international Porsgrunn Church competition

Roz Barr Architects has revealed images of its shortlisted submission to the international competition to design a new church for Porsgrunn, a community in Norway’s south.

Roz Barr’s proposal for the new church creates a crafted building in a circular form, reinterpreting the typology and respecting the memory of the construction and carpentry of the original church. The proposal, shortlisted in the international competition to replace the original baroque timber church erected in 1760 and destroyed by fire in 2011, is for a circular church designed to offer a symbol of solidity and unity, a “circle within a circle” of both cloister and public space.

Local master builder Joen Jacobsen’s plans for the original Porsgrunn church were amended and enlarged by state architects in Oslo, who assumed it was to be built in stone. The confusion resulted in one of the country’s largest wooden churches, renowned for its innovative engineering and carpentry as Jacobsen used timber construction techniques years ahead of widespread adoption.

Roz Barr Architects’ proposal contains the memory of the original church, rising from its square foundations as a church in circular form, cut on a true east to west axis with a bell tower signposting its place in the city. The new 36 metre bell tower sits where the original alter would have faced, creating a resonance and focus to the ‘edge’ of the new cloister, denoting the main entrance and a beacon to the community.

Externally the church is a cast textured concrete with a fine vertical pattering, while internally the circular form is expressed by glue-lam timber arches, ‘levitating’ from the ground and hovering beneath a polished porcelain concrete dome, cast in-situ. The dome, just 100mm thick, is held in place by a ring beam and the arched timber, creating a light slot augmented by large vertical windows which offer directional light through the year.

The contrast between the overt timber construction and baroque flourishes in the original 1760s church were unique and took the form of a handcrafted copper spire and weather vane, as well as an elaborate retable and carved wooden pulpit in rococo style.

Roz Barr Architects’ architectonic approach to the interior locates the chancel on the precise axis and raises it three steps above the main church floor to accommodate the altar, the pulpit, piano, lectern and sexton place, united by an alter window symbolising the cross visible through the radial wooden columns which, while integral to the structure, also refer to the original church’s construction and provide a play of light and shade.

The chancel is configured so that it can also be transformed to stage a concert with a gallery above the main church space extending the capacity of the church to 500. Acoustics are carefully considered, with the hanging timber panels giving a depth and reverberation to amplify speech.

Externally, the proposals create a ‘church square’ and loggia which connects the main entrance to church and the campus buildings beyond. It is where churchgoers will gather before and after a service, so full height glazed walls frame the large solid timber entrance doors and reflect on both elevations to make a clear connection through the space.

The paved surfaces articulate the outline of the original church cross as part of the patterning in granite stone, and the existing foundation stones will be used in a memory wall.

The re-use and adaptation of the existing church hall provides ancillary accommodation and meets programmatic requirements by removing the existing roof and extending the brick walls. The contrast in materiality complements the old and new buildings though the coursing of the vertical articulation of the concrete against the horizontality of the brickwork.

A 1:100 scale model in plaster, walnut and brass was hand made by the practice as part of the competition entry to communicate both the spatial properties of the church interior and the construction methods of the proposals. The emphasis on craft extends through the practice’s other church projects: a new Augustinian Centre in Hammersmith and proposals for a church in Valer, north of Oslo in Norway.

Roz Barr Architects came second in the competition, which was won by Espen Surnevik.

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