They don’t ask me now, but people used to pose the question “As an architect and a Christian, wouldn’t you like to design a Church Building” They were generally disappointed when I said “No, not really” You see, I had no desire, inspiration or passion to design a church. I had always believed (and still do) that the church is not a building. It is the people of God wherever they are and wherever the met. The building was and is incidental. That is not to say that I was not deeply affected and sometimes awe struck when visiting great church buildings: with the sheer majesty of the cathedral church of Notre-Dame de Reims, with the intimacy and simplicity of the parish church on Papa Stour, with monasteries in Romania and reformed churches in Hungary, with the work of Alvar Aalto and Corbusier especially with Notre Dame du Haut and many many more. Yet my appreciation of these building was perhaps esoteric and detached and I would have no conviction that they related at all to a real and living church, a gathering of God’s people for worship and service. There was a disconnect in my mind.
I had qualified in 1973 and worked for 7 years with the late Jack Notman in Glasgow. His output as far as building was not prolific but I learned much during my time with him. I still follow the principles that I learned then: designing buildings, that were of quality and would last, that would provide comfort and convenience and would be life affirming for those who use them, that were designed using the simple elements of space, light, materials, colour and textures, examining how spaces connect with each other, how people move though a building and what it says about who we are and what we are about. The aim was always to achieve something of real value with a timeless quality.
Towards the end of my time with Jack Notman, I was involved in a number of significant projects, among them, the conversation of Trinity Congregational Church, in the west end of Glasgow, as a rehearsal and concert hall for the then Scottish National Orchestra (now the RSNO). It was a very interesting project as it involved changing the role of the building from an ecclesiastical one to an arts and entertainment one. It was challenge to de- ecclesiasticise the structure, while retaining its character. It was opened by Princess Margaret in 1978, became a very successful project, won several awards and remained the home for the orchestra up until very recently. Not long after it was opened, I was at a concert with a friend, who was a minister and, during the interval, he turned to me and said “This would make a good church”. The throw-a-way comment stuck with me and I came to see that Church Buildings are, in fact, important. They do matter and like the clothes we wear, affect how we feel about ourselves and how others view us. So began, for me, a new direction in the adapting and refurbishing of church buildings, altering, extending, re-ordering, refreshing , preparing feasibility studies and designs for new buildings which has extended to over 50 individual projects for a wide variety of Christian denominations.
So it is not difficult to understand my surprise and my delight when I heard, just this week, that Trinity Congregational Church designed by John Honeyman in 1863, converted into the Henry Wood Hall by Jack Notman in 1978 was to begin a third life as a Church Building in 2016 as The Tron Kelvingrove.
(I was not the Job Architect on this project but helped with drawings and details. The person who was, and who did all the real work on it, was Nigel Duncan)