St John’s Church replaces the original church building dating from 1910. The existing building failed new earthquake standards, requiring the congregation to relocate to an adjacent hall. In contrast to the long tradition of timber churches in New Zealand, the original church was one of the first buildings in the city to use reinforced concrete construction. After exploring options for strengthening the existing building, the parish held an invited architectural competition for a new church. The brief was succinct - a single space, 180 square meters, square in plan, flexible and versatile. Many of the parish families had been part of the church for over a century, but they wanted a contemporary response.
The site is on a highly visible corner. One street is wide, busy and lined with large established trees. The other street is quiet and residential, with a large park directly opposite. The neighbourhood is designated a special character area due to the number of early 20th century villas and bungalows. But the immediate vicinity is mixed in character with both residential and commercial uses. From the outset the intention was a contemporary simple form that has a boldness softened by the small scale of the building. The new church is a single space, square in plan, and rotated 9 degrees off the street grid. The rotation moves the focus toward the larger street, increasing its presence. This also acts to separate it visually from the existing church complex, while maintaining a physical connection.
The design developed around an exploration of timber structural systems. An orthogonal configuration of timber columns and beams was developed. This provides a link to New Zealand church architectural history, while creating a soft rhythm to the overall strict cubic form.
The interior is defined by the glulam pine structure. Divided into 5 equal bays in each direction, the space between each structural grid consists of either glass or fine horizontal larch battens.
North and south facades are predominantly glass to provide a visual continuity from the park opposite - through the church - and into a rear garden. In contrast the solidity of the west facade provides visual and acoustic privacy from the busier street. A tall slender window in this wall provides a glimpse to an established oak tree on the street verge.
The weathering steel facade contrasts the neighbourhood’s mixed architecture. In autumn the orange tone of the steel matches the trees, in other seasons it is complementary to the greenery. The glazed public façade is screened with vertical timber fins set at an angle to the church façade. The angle is calculated to increase sun screening. But also increases the visual openness toward the main street, helping strike a balance between privacy and openness.
The new St John’s Church provides versatile space for the parish’s three separate congregations. Large triple sliding doors connect the new church space to the existing foyer and provide spill over area for larger gatherings.