Churches make a comeback in commercial buildings

The modernised Highway Christian Centre. (image SMH)

Churches have traditionally been the hub of the community, but one architectural firm in Collingwood has given a modern twist to this ageless concept.

ClarkeHopkinsClarke has made “Don’t forget the church and community in urban design” ethos in its urban design. “Towns evolve differently from what they used to. Unless it’s master-planned in, different uses such as churches often get overlooked. They don’t get a voice at the table,” said CHC partner Dean Landy.

“We’re passionate about building strong communities. It’s not just about the buildings. The main driver is ‘Get a layer of culture and activation into town centres’.”

What that means in practice is the church shares its facilities with a variety of local groups. It uses the building on the weekend, the peak time, and the locals during the week.

CHC, with 65 staff, turns 55 this year. The company has been a pioneer of this concept, which covers not only greenfield land in Melbourne’s growth corridors, but brownfield sites where redundant buildings in light industrial areas are given a new purpose.

CHC has completed or is undertaking church projects at Hoppers Crossing (an old glass manufacturing plant was converted into a 700-seat auditorium with functions rooms and full commercial kitchens), Scoresby, Point Cook, Box Hill and Bundoora.

The churches are mixed denominations. Point Cook has a Church of Christ, whereas the others tend to be new Australian Christian churches, such as Apostolic, Hillsong and Planet Shakers. The buildings are not designed with religious architecture and paraphernalia. “They are appealing to a younger demographic, with contemporary music, art and performance, and cafes. They adapt to what today’s younger culture wants,” Mr Landy said. “Mainstream churches have an ageing demographic. As the church population ages, they are closing down.” Mainstream church buildings are often transformed into apartments.

At Scoresby, the Highway Church was built in a refurbished old warehouse surrounded by a small village centre in a light industrial area. The centre is used regularly by the council, businesses and schools. A small theatrette is used as a conference centre…

Read more by Philip Hopkins, Sydney Morning Herald 28 January 2015

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