Client: Parish Council of Copenhagen
Status: Competition (2016)
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Coordinates: 55.652930, 12.553402
Climate: Oceanic / maritime, Temperate
Materials: Concrete, Wood
Environments: Seaside, Urban
Scale: 3.200 ㎡ Medium
Types: Church, Religious
Our proposal for the Sydnhaven Church in Copenhagen aims to produce a unique space which takes advantage of the specificity of the location to produce a space which, while having the monumental serenity of more conventional religious spaces, will also have the quality of a collective assembly room for all citizens alike, much like old cathedrals used to be places of congregation which exceeded the simple demands of the liturgy. While the form of the cross is deeply embedded in the structure of the church space, our ambition is for the space to attain a non-denominational quality. Monumentality is in this sense the vehicle to provide the building with a significance which transcends cultural and creed divisions.
A Symbolic Space
The form of the main space is aimed to combine many images that are associated to spaces of cult and spiritual elevation. On the one hand, the symbol of the cross has been deeply embedded in the form of the church’s envelope, rather than being applied as an ornamental figure. By doing so, the space of the church itself is basically a rectangular plate, lifted above the ground level, more akin to a basilical plan or a mosque, than to a cruciform cathedral. While the form of the cross is deeply embedded in the experience of the space, our ambition is to remove the ornamental elements in order to produce a space with a non-denominational mystique.
On the other hand, the structure of the church has been designed by 4 double columns, placed on the centre of the 4 sides of the rectangular plan of the church, holding a cruciform truss hovering over the basilical plan of the church. Between the rectangular shape of the plan and the structural cross which lits the space as an oversized cruciform skylight, four anticlastic surfaces designed through a catenary logic in order to optimize the efficiency of the structure, add one more layer of significance: built entirely in timber, they have a surprising resemblance to the geometry of boat hulls, which will set up an additional reference to the naval traditions of the people of Copenhagen.
A perimetral window all around the church will provide a 360º view of the city and the surrounding canals, providing a “horizontal” framing of the views, which emphasizes community and collectivity. Four vertical windows, framed between the columns, extending into the sky, and lacing into a cross will provide a “vertical” framing of the view, where the ground is connected to the sky, emphasizing the relationship to the spiritual. This combination of view frames will be rather unique, as most of the fenestration in churches tends to provide a vertical framing which emphasizes only the spiritual dimension of the Christian community. At night, the sandblasted glazing of the vertical windows will be projected over with digital projectors, providing a kind of cinematic stained glass which could be used for contemporary displays of lithurgic art, such as the Martyrs series and Mary which Bill Viola has recently made for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The structure will be built in white concrete, and the four pairs of columns that hold the roof cruciform truss will form with the perimetral frame of the church a pattern of transparent crosses of white concrete, infilled with different types of glass, sometimes transparent to enable views, sometimes sandblasted to filter the direct sunlight and provide a more mysterious light to the interior.
On the Northwest corner of the rectangular plate of the church, the most public corner of the building, where most public will be accessing the building, an amphitheatre-shaped stair will bring the people up to the church level, emphasizing the sacred nature of the space, while providing an opportunity for public assembly covered from the rain. Choir public events, public speeches and performances will be given a theatre-like space to run performances. Mirrored quadrants on the four corners of the church, enclosed by sandblasted glass and alabaster will contain the functions directly associated to the liturgy: the rooms for the priest and the relics, the rooms for the choir and the organist, the baptistery and the children’s room, including some stairs connecting to the offices and the service areas below.
The need to complement the church space with a variety of community spaces has led us to place the church level elevated from the ground level, so that those functional spaces will be given a more direct access from the ground level, while raising the monumental space of the church over the functional socle. This will have two immediate effects on the experience of the space: on the one hand the mere act of climbing a flight of stairs to reach the level of the church will already add a certain solemnity to the space. On the other hand, the way in which the church has been designed will create a 360º view over the canals, maintaining a constant visual relationship between the religious space and the urban surroundings.
A 7.2m deep loggia has been located on the North side of the church in order to allow the community to develop a variety of open-air activities, such as a café, childrens’ games and open-air exhibitions. The organization of the ground level is aimed to provide independent access to the different parts of the complementary program. The centre of the building will be occupied by a column-free community room 18×20 m and 3,90m high which can be divided into different spaces. This community room is reachable from the loggia on the north face of the building, and from two alternative lobbies on the East and West sides of the building, enabling several alternatives for the use of the space. The multifunctional room is entirely openable to the loggia space through a series of fully glazed sliding doors.
On the South side of the building we have located the offices and administrative functions of the building, connected to the church level through two stairs. On the West side we have located some seminar rooms for multipurpose functions. On the East side we have concentrated all the rooms that are complementary to these function rooms, such as public toilets, public kitchen/café, dressing rooms and storage.
When the church hosts a charity canteen, the east part of the ground floor is used separately. The central space is divided by folded walls into a smaller one, next to the kitchen area and public toilets. The main access is located on the front side of the building, facing the river and the main bridge. If the fully glazed sliding doors are opened, the canteen can be extended to the loggia exterior space. Public toilets can be treated separately by locking them into their own lobby, where they can have either an interior or an exterior access.
If a musical event takes place, the central room, that can hold more than 300 chairs, is fully used. The main access is located on the west side connecting to the bridge. A lobby, with an information and security point, gives access to the music space and two side rooms that can be used either for rehearsals or for some exposition. On the other side, secondary spaces such as the storage area, public toilets, a dressing room and a cafe are working to provide service to people attending to the event.
The office space is developed separately from the cultural and the religious space but remains fully connected to the second one. On one side, a stair and an elevator connect the office to the priest rooms and a meeting area inside the church and on the other side a stair connects them with the chorus space and the organist office and break room. The working space is accessed by the parking and is subdivided into different typologies of offices with natural day light. The main program is complemented with storage spaces, toilets and a break area for the staff.
Our proposal for the Sydnhaven Church is grounded on a reduced material palette which is aimed to reinforce the monumentality of the building. The main structure of the building, including the façade and the first floor slab will be built in white concrete. The floor slab will be supported by some walls around the main event space in the ground level and the pair of columns in the centre of every side, plus columns in four corners except in the North-west corner, where the roof has been cantilevered from the main structure. White concrete will form the crosses which appear on every side of the rectangular building, as a structure which is also forming the Christian symbol, but gives an impression of precision, cleanliness and openness. The scale of the columns and spandrel beams is always 60x60cms so that an image of abstraction is achieved. The enclosure of the space infilling the structural members on the façade will be made with large frameless triple glazing units which will allow a maximum daylight ingress.
The floor of the church and also the common facilities on the ground level will be finished with a dark, polished terrazzo in situ, cast with brass joints. Above the 4 pairs of columns that form the vertically framed windows we are proposing to place a cruciform Vierendeel truss, made in oak timber. The spaces between the members will act as skylights and will cast a cross of light over the main church floor. Hanging from the cruciform truss, a catenary surface made with steel and wood will give shape to a roof that resembles the hulls of old Viking ships, made with local oak. The infill panels of the roof, will be made also with oak-finished cross-laminated timber, where 250mm of insulation will be used before the waterproofing layer and the standing-seam zinc plate, which will adjust to the complex geometry of the roof.
The glass windows, which will be framing horizontally the street texture, and vertically, the relationship between the water and the sky, will be provided with white translucent curtains, able to filter direct light into a white glow which will enter through a cruciform three-dimensional pattern. The white curtains are also a reference to the sails of the ships which have populated the Copenhagen Harbour for centuries. The horizontal window which surrounds the church space will be openable in order to enable views to the city when desired. At night, a set of projectors will project sacred video-art and images over these translucent screens, turning them into a changing stained glass, which could be the target of videos similar to those designed by Bill Viola for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London: Martyrs and Virgin Mary with Christ’s Body.