Historic Churches 2020

BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 27 TH ANNUAL EDITION 19 STRUCTURAL GLASS SCREENS at St Dionis, Parsons Green Peter Hazeldean M ANY PLACES of worship in the UK are at risk of redundancy, and it is increasingly recognised that we must extend their use where possible. Bringing in others to share in the upkeep of these buildings is vital, particularly where the architecture is historic and the fabric is aging. However, historic places of worship can be particularly difficult to adapt sensitively without losing much of their character and significance. Subdividing them to accommodate separate uses may be possible in larger churches where there is an undercroft or other separate space, but architects often have to rely on the use of screen partitions to divide larger volumes. One way to soften their impact is to use structural glass screens, carefully cut around the existing architectural features so that the alteration is reversible, minimising permanent change. These have the advantage over more traditional details that the original form and volume of the interior space can still be understood and appreciated though the glass. As distinctly modern features they also help to define new work without confusing the history and significance of the building as a whole. The adaptation and re-ordering of St Dionis, on Parsons Green in London provides an interesting example of what can be achieved. This is a Grade II listed red brick church dating back to 1886. Designed by architect Ewan Christian, it is in typical perpendicular Gothic style, incorporating a fine carved font and pulpit which originated from Wren’s St Dionis Backchurch in the City of London which gave the church its name. Despite enjoying a prominent position directly overlooking the green, the original church façade was considered off-putting by the vicar, Tim Stilwell. The entrance was small and dark, opening directly into an area used for church admin, so visitors were immediately confronted with desks and computers. Tim had a vision for a centre in Parsons Green that would welcome all members of the local community and residents into the church. His aim was to create a more accessible space with improved facilities, a kitchen and meeting spaces The new entrance to the church: the new glazing was considered to provide a more inviting entrance than the original solid doors (All photos: Ion Glass) where people could meet, learn, teach, develop new skills and worship. Working with architects Carden & Godfrey, designs were developed to fully reorder the church, commissioning heritage glass specialists Ion Glass to manage the extensive structural glass element of the project. Key to welcoming in more people was a brand new entrance, replacing the wooden door with glass and opening up the brickwork on either side to create full height side panels. This provided more light and most importantly, visual access to the interior. The new entrance now opens directly into a welcoming reception area with the