Church in Sydhavnen
"A great building must begin with the unmeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed, and in the end must be unmeasurable". -- Louis Kahn
Mediating between urban fabric and waterfront, our proposal for the new church of Sydhavn is a contextual response to the residential masterplan of Teglholmen, recognizing the needs of a modern-day religious and civic institution whilst celebrating the city’s rich relationship with the waterfront.
Not unlike the adjacent industrial buildings, the church presents itself to the city as an austere, humble, and carefully proportioned structure of brick and mortar-- an unpretentious facility designed to act as a condenser of culture, civic tradition, and spirituality.
Behind the indecipherable thickness of its solid facade, the new church of Sydhavn conceals a visual feast of light and shadow: a space that-- by virtue of its scale, proportion, and materiality-- invites an attitude of reverence to God, nature, and the achievements of humankind.
Formally, the building is conceived as a solid extrusion that extends to the edges of the site, conforming to a footprint that closely adheres to the geometric principles of the Teglholmen masterplan. Conforming to the north-south axis, the building is oriented in a way that celebrates the adjacent waterfront, enriching the experience of prayer with views of the surrounding canal. In this way, the building acts conceptually as an urban-scale mediator between an active public realm and an intimate environment for prayer and contemplation-- muting the sounds of the city and framing an uninterrupted view of the surrounding horizon.
Acknowledging the site’s orientation and sight lines within the overall master plan, the scheme is conceptually, programmatically, and structurally organised in a way that reinterprets the spatial hierarchy of the Roman basilica. Spatially, the plan of the building is organised around five vaults arranged in a chequered formation, each defining the main components of the program: one large central hall for prayer, flanked by four skylit towers containing ancillary services, a baptistry chapel and the cafeteria. As the main architectural and structural feature of the building, these self-supported vaults provide a clear sense of of spatial hierarchy, organizing the plan in a manner that is not only compositionally rational, but also highly symbolic, as it is reminiscent of an early Christian cruciform.
Upon entering the building on the south end of the site, the visitor is welcomed by a large gallery in the vestibule as a prelude to the main congregation hall. Ancillary programs can be found to the east and west of this vestibule: a small cafe with adjoining seating space to the east, and access to WC’s and office facilities for the parish to the west. In this way, the ground level is organised in a way that distinctly buffers the main prayer hall-- a space of quiet contemplation-- from the more “active” operational facilities as well as the main vertical circulation routes.
Located above-grade on top of the main congregation hall, a well-proportioned cultural space is not only designed to provide maximum flexibility for performance, but is in fact conceived as a performative space in itself. Featuring a mechanically operated roof that fully opens to the elements, the cultural hall channels the view of visitors towards the sky and the water, inviting an attitude of contemplation and allowing the ambiance of the space to vary depending on the season and time of the day. With the the simple act of opening the roof of the structure, the sound of concerts happening in Sydhavn Kirke can permeate the urban realm, extending the program of the church beyond the perimeter of the site in a way that truly democratizes the experience of culture in the port of Sydhavn.
In terms of its day-to-day operation, visitors move vertically from the vestibule gallery to the cultural hall via a cascading stair on the east end of the building, contained within the triple-height space of the café. Placed adjacent to a large glazed opening, the stair invites visitors to enjoy views of the canal as they ascend to the pre-function spaces of the culture hall above. Symmetrically opposite to this space, the west wing of the church contains vertical circulation shafts for servicing, staff, and maintenance, including a well-proportioned lift capable of moving sizeable musical instruments. Mechanical rooms and HVAC services are strategically placed within the interstitial space that results from the vault that defines the prayer hall and the floor of the cultural space above, allowing services to be distributed vertically in both directions.
Similar in formal approach to an early Christian temple, our proposal for the new church of Sydhavn is driven by the structural expression of the vault as an ideal geometry for the distribution of forces throughout the building, and as the main organisational feature that defines the sequencing and layering of spaces in plan and in section.
The structural and spatial approach is inspired by a type of minimal surface known as the “Scherk” surface: a self-supported system that locally minimizes its area through a network of bridging arches arranged in a modular checkerboard pattern.
The use of these vaults not only ensures that the transition between perpendicular planes occurs seamlessly and elegantly, but also minimizes the amount of material required for construction, provides clear spatial hierarchy and layering, and produces apertures along the elevation of the building that gently illuminate the prayer hall with natural light.
In terms of materials, the project deliberately celebrates the use of brick and mortar as a traditional method of Danish construction. Our proposal explores innovative uses of material by understanding the capacity of vaulted brick formations, in this case modulating the brick to conform to the geometry of the Scherk surfaces to produce a self-supported structural system that is functionally coherent and spatially expressive. In contrast to the robust, austere qualities of brick of the main spaces, flanking spaces are expressed using a combination of primary steel beams and secondary glulam timber joists. The lightness of these materials not only provides a finer grain of architectural detail to the interior spaces, but also suggests flexibility for future modifications as the building’s function evolves throughout the passage of time.