Willoughby Uniting Church

By Andrew Duffin
public buildings

10 Clanwilliam Street, Willoughby


Willoughby Uniting Church, photograph by Eric Sierins

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

The new Willoughby Uniting Church has created a space for contemporary worship in a setting that expresses a church community spanning over 130 years. The new facilities have been woven seamlessly onto a heritage listed chapel and a victorian manse restored to original glory. The victorian manse has become the revitalised hub for the administration of parish work, the federation chapel remains as an intimate 80 seat worship space and the new 250 seat church auditorium brings the site into the 21st century. The complex evokes a message of progressive worship with a warm welcoming atmosphere, where natural light carefully controls the volumes of space.

Outside, the spaces between the buildings are pedestrian friendly, sun drenched and defined with passive and active zones welcoming in the broader neighbourhood.

The three elements - manse, chapel and auditorium evoke individual importance through their distinctive styles and massings. All elements are carefully connected with a light filled 2 storey atrium focussed around the original chapel directing circulation around the site’s heritage.

The materials are neutral and respectful of the context. Terracotta wall cladding compliments the orange/reds of the federation church and the neighbouring interwar cottages. Elsewhere neutral, honest concrete and low lustre zinc provides a passive backdrop. The use of glass establishes connectivity transparency and spaciousness.

What problems did you have to solve?

The first challenge was to design a public building whilst minimizing any impact on the low scale residential environment. To preserve neighbours’ amenity was of primary concern solved by careful arrangement of the building bulk, purposeful composition of fenestration and appropriate distribution of vehicular and pedestrian circulation.

The second challenge was to weave the new building in with the original fabric. With careful detailing and selection of recessive materials the junction of old to new has been achieved in a seamless manner whilst allowing the existing chapel and manse to play an important part in the overall composition of the complex.

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

A creative partnership between all consultants allowed for the project to run efficiently. 3D modelling of the old and new allowed the builder - Donnelley Constructions to understand the complex volumes and material palettes keeping the integrity of the design through to construction. Structural engineers Mott MacDonald Hughes Trueman worked closley with the design team to realise the architectural vision. Leuchars + Partners provided a landscaped setback that enhances the openness of the streetscape. Knox Advanced Engineering created a mixed mode natural ventilation strategy and RGH Consulting Group provided expertise in on site water detention strategies to reuse grey water on site for landscaping.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

From the outset the client valued the architect’s input. The big picture ideas have been retained from early concepts design energy was given to develop in detail a solution that communicates a well crafted execution. With a strength of concept in place, NBRS+PARTNERS were able to maintain the integrity of the  design from big idea to minute detail.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

The complex has been carefully designed in response to the natural environment. The internal spaces are filled with natural light; openings have been arranged to draw air across spaces and with automatically controlled wide span glazed louvers, the interior achieves a high level of comfort. Occupants enjoy the flexibility of air conditioning operating in a mixed mode system. Glazing has been extensively shaded with aluminium louvres to prevent excessive heat gain. Onsite water detention storage tanks collect rainwater and store it under the carpark to the rear of the site, which is then used to irrigate the church landscaping.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

The project has revitalised a long established church community with the careful insertion of new facilities around heritage fabric. The public building is open and welcoming yet respectful of its low scale detached cottage context. The new complex allows for contemporary worship in a relaxed friendly environment defined by well crafted volumes and delicate junction details. The spaces created are a joy to be a part of.