denizen works has realized its design for a floating church featuring a kinetic roof inspired by organ bellows. designed for the diocese of london, ‘genesis’ is moored on the river lee at queen elizabeth olympic park in east london. the wide-beam canal boat will serve not only as a religious place but also as a flexible and mobile space for canalside communities.
images © gilbert mccarragher
the floating church has a total floor area of 484.4 ft2 (45 m2) and is designed by denizen works to accommodate a wide range of community activities, from parent and toddler groups to pilates. the pop-up roof is crafted from concertinaed, translucent sailcloth, and is lined with led lights and powered by hydraulic rams. when fully raised, the roof will transform the barge from compact and low-lying, allowing it to pass beneath bridges, expanding into an illuminated beacon designed to capture attention and attract footfall to the mission. operated by the touch of a button, in its raised position it increases the head height of the barge to 3.6m at its highest point, creating a dramatic interior which is accessible to all.
the floor plan comprises the main assembly space on one side and all the necessary services (kitchen, office and toilet) on the other. the simple interior is made oflight plywood walls and green linoleum floor. the expansive assembly space under the kinetic roof is designed to take a capacity of 40 people seated and up to 60 passengers when stationary.
it has built-in valchromat benches providing seating and storage along the perimeter of the room, and is fitted with marinestyle bulkhead lights to create a cosy atmosphere. the furniture, designed by local design company plyco, includes custom-designed plywood stools and foldable tables for use at public events and services. an altar designed by denizen works featuring an angled-front face like the prow of a boat has also been fabricated, and is designed to fold down into a flat pack for easy storage.
to take genesis from concept to reality, the london-based architects worked in close collaboration with turks shipyard and naval architect tony tucker. christened after the first book of the bible, the boat is conceived as a modern-day mission to develop links with growing communities living around the canal in east london over the next 25 years. the floating church will remain here at queen elizabeth olympic park for three to five years before moving to other communities and parishes. genesis will also be available for private hire and for use by local schools, to ensure that it is a self-sustaining asset to the communities it serves.
murray kerr of denizen works says, ‘the project showcases what we think our practice is best at: providing innovative and joyful design solutions by drawing on the skills of a close network of collaborators. as a mixed-use faith and community project, we feel the boat could be a first step in our thinking about how communities can continue to be served as they grow and move away from traditional locations and building types. most of all, the project demonstrates what can be achieved when a brave client with an exciting brief believes in an ambitious design team.’
the bishop of london, the rt rev and rt hon dame sarah mullally DBE, said, ‘the delivery of the vessel marks the completion of an ambitious four-year project to create a unique resource that will inspire new and creative ministry in communities throughout east london. it is only the beginning for the vessel, genesis, which starts its journey in the queen elizabeth olympic park but will move along the canals of east london in the years to come, inspiring dynamic religious growth across this diverse and ever-changing city. I would like to thank all those involved in the project: from those at the diocese who conceived of the idea, to the funders, the imaginative architects at denizen works, those at turks boatyard who worked so hard to perfect the vessel and of course, to those from the parishes of st paul old ford and st mary of eton who have been working with the community to lay the groundwork for this special day.’
‘the sight of genesis on the banks of the river lee navigation is fantastic. with so many changes happening in hackney wick and fish island, we must constantly seek ways to help build community, so I am pleased to report that st columba east is a community going from strength to strength. with genesis now in situ we can look forward to the next phase of growth, now with a space to support our desire for action, reflection and contemplation. despite the milestone of delivery being met, current circumstances require that we take the necessary steps to manage risk and protect people before opening our doors. we will undertake this with the careful consideration it requires, comments the rev dave pilkington.
project name: genesis floating church
location: here east, queen elizabeth olympic park, stratford, london, the UK
client: diocese of london
architect: denizen works
naval architect: tucker designs
boatbuilder: turks shipyard
interior fit-out: ANR developments
area: 484.4 ft2 (45 m2)
measurements: 27.9ft (8.5m) length, 11.8ft (3.6m) height (when kinetic roof is raised)
construction cost: £650,000
photography: gilbert mccarragher