Architecture review: The floating church moored in Hackney Wick
- Credit: Archant
Architect Gordon Shrigley examines how a floating church moored in Hackney Wick could rock the boat in attracting a wider community to step on deck and join the congregation.
If you walk along the River Lea towpath, you may come across Genesis floating church, a great green whale of a boat with a dramatic gaping bellows mouth that seductively beckons you inside.
Once inside the belly of the whale, you find a highly-crafted minimalist interior with pale green natural lino flooring and crisply designed rows of birch plywood benches that face an abstracted alter reminiscent of the prow of a boat.
READ MORE: Could historical design help architects creatively tackle homeworking space?The overall space is illuminated throughout the day by the sun’s shifting rays that are dramatically framed by a large glass oculus above and through laser-cut filigree port and starboard window panels.
The most striking aspect of Genesis, though, is the roof, which was inspired by the shape of organ bellows and constructed from concertinaed sailcloth.
It looks like the jaws of a gnashing beast and can, at the touch of a button, rise majestically up towards the heavens and then down again for more worldly tasks, such as travelling under a bridge.
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Genesis floating church, designed by Denizen Works and naval architect Tony Tucker, is a project commissioned by the Anglican Diocese of London, which intends to moor Genesis in Hackney Wick for the next five years.
It will then set sail to other canal-side communities who are also experiencing urban growth or change.
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The interior style of Genesis, in the words of the boat’s skipper Reverend David Pilkington, has been designed to be as “neutral as possible” so it appeals to parts of the community who would never ordinarily step inside a church.
Therefore, there is no crucifix, cross, font or sacred text.
Can such a decidedly neutral space really be considered a church? Or is the diocese’s decision not to include any overt links to the 2,000-year visual traditions of Christianity floating the idea that “neutral space” alone is suitable for spiritual transformation?
It could leave the time-honoured symbols of Christianity fit only for a museum, not for a liquid church.
Genesis appears in many respects then to be a religious experiment. Suggesting not the church of God, but the church of good - which may in the end be the same thing but repackaged for 21st century hipsters and plywood evangelists in a cool stripped-back minimalist style.
However, no architectural style is ever really neutral, as all styles speak to the tastes and values of particular social groups and inevitably not to others.
I wonder, then, if the adoption of such a cool and trendy aesthetic for the interior of Genesis, which looks more like one of the many expensive artisan boutique coffee shops that now populate Hackney, was the best strategy to attract the widest congregation as possible.
As such a pared-down aesthetic may speak more to the upwardly mobile new residents of the area than the more long-term Hackney Wick community, who may not be as attracted to the feigned boutique neutrality of Genesis as much as the diocese might like to think.
Genesis floating church is a very exciting and playful experiment that asks us to reconsider what a modern church could look like, whilst also providing much-needed community space for local landlubbers, and should be lauded as such.