Architects' call to halt ‘inappropriate’ redevelopment of heritage church

Architects and heritage advocates have expressed concern about a proposal to transform Don Gazzard’s seminal Wentworth Memorial Church into a private residence.

The owner of the state-heritage listed church, which the late Sydney School architect said was “without a doubt” his most important building from the 1960s, has submitted plans for the development to Woollahra Municipal Council.

Sydney firm Architectural Projects has prepared the designs, which call for a three-level addition at the rear of the church along with an underground carpark and a plunge pool. In a heritage impact statement, the architects say the addition would be localized and reversible, and that it would read “as a minimalist element that is distinguishable from the original but compatible.”

But some architects have labelled the $5 million proposal “totally inappropriate” and the organization Friends of Wentworth Memorial Church has called on the architecture community to show their support for the heritage building.

“The church holds immense cultural value as a rare ecclesiastical example of Sydney School architecture and is widely considered to be Don Gazzard’s most significant building,” the group said in a statement.

Architect Nicholas Bucci, who formed Friends of Wentworth Memorial Church with colleague Jordan Silver, said they and Gazzard’s former business partner Mark Sheldon were looking to raise awareness about the proposal.

Wentworth Memorial Church by Clarke Gazzard and Partners.


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“It’s a state heritage-listed item and a former community and religious building,” he said. “It still has the capacity to serve the public, or serve some sort of function that allows the public to interact with it, and not be totally privatized as a luxury residence.”

The Wentworth Memorial Church was built in 1965 as a memorial to residents of the district who died in WWII. It was built on land given to the Church of England in 1927 by the descendants of colonial statesman William Charles Wentworth, for the purpose of building a church.

In May 1964, Clarke Gazzard and Partners, with Don Gazzard as design architect, was commissioned for the building that now occupies the site in May 1964.

The church’s state heritage listing describes the building as “citadel-like” with its “soaring white walls and walled courtyard” atop a rocky hill. Architectural historian and critic Jennifer Taylor has described the journey to the church along a winding path as one of “revelation.”

She writes that the church combines the “clear forms and high natural lighting” characteristic of the Sydney School with “a Greek sense of the three-dimensional form and sequential progression.”

Architectural Projects states that the public walkway, spatial promenade and courtyard would be retained in their current appearance and that the 350 square metre church space would remain intact.

The proposed plans does includes other interventions, however. Bucci notes that the project would involve excavating large amount of sandstone out of the church’s base. “The building is perched on this sandstone outcrop and the whole design is intended to be in harmony with the natural landscape,” he said. “The proposed design burrows deep into the rock, creates an underground leisure room, spa, lap pool and underground parking, and a lift that shoots up through the rock and pops out at the back of the church.”

The Friends of the Wentworth Memorial Church said that beyond stopping the current proposal a broader conversation should be had about an appropriate future for the church.

“We as an architectural community have real agency to shape the future of our most loved buildings and protect our cultural heritage, as proven by the recent campaign to save Sirius,” they said.

Source: Architecture - architectureau

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