Diocese of Portsmouth

    Brazilian students help us rethink church buildings

    13 Aug. 2015

    THEY were full of ideas to help our churches make the most of their locations and opportunities.

    The students meet Bishop Christopher

    One new design for St Michael's, Paulsgrove, involved linking together the green space around the church

    This group of students proposed a new 'Divine Cafe' at Christ Church, Portsdown

    These Brazilian architecture students spent three weeks analysing what three churches in our diocese had to offer – and came up with innovative ways to redesign their buildings and publicity material.

    The 26 students were part of an interns programme at the University of Portsmouth. This was their final project as part of a year in the UK. They examined Christ Church, Portsdown, St Michael’s, Paulsgrove, and St James, Milton, before presenting their findings to the vicars and our bishop.

    One group recommended a new ‘Divine Café’ could be built onto the side of Christ Church, Portsdown, to help it become the centre of its local community. They investigated the demographics of the parish as well as what facilities were already offered locally.

    Jessica Souza, 21, said: “The church is actually quite hidden behind trees and far from the road. People don’t know it is there. We wanted to create a pavilion-style café to create a connection between the church and the community. It would look like a conservatory and be made out of modern materials, to feel more comfortable.

    “There would be steps leading to the café from the church hall, an outside playground and prominent signs. People would get to know the church via the café, which we’d advertise on signs at bus stops. We would even design the coffee cups with the logo on!”

    Another group decided that they could link together the green space to the north and south of St Michael’s, Paulsgrove, via a series of footpaths, placing the church at the centre of a network of outdoor activities.

    That might include barbecue and picnic areas, concerts, playgrounds and skate area on the green in front of the church, and community gardens and vegetable patches, football pitches, and giant board games to the north of the church.

    Student Ana Isis said: “We wanted to sew the church into the fabric of the community, linking the green space to the church building. We wanted to remove barriers to the church, such as the current railings, but still to have a boundary between religious and community space.”

    The experience of working on real-life projects in a different country, with a different religious culture, was an eye-opener for many of the students.

    Giovana Chastalo, 22, said: “It is a new experience for us to have the client here, to listen to the church and work with what they want. That’s what we’ll have to do after university!”

    The project was jointly organised by the university’s School of Architecture and our diocese’s Council for Social Responsibility. Social responsibility adviser Canon Nick Ralph said: “Churches often work with one architect or a firm of architects but rarely do they work with 26!

    “There was fun and laughter on both sides as well as the opportunity to get a variety of ideas, and a fresh perspective, from a group of talented young. These young aspiring architects have gained experience working with a real client that is sometimes tricky to understand and interpret, and they have done it to a very high standard.”

    And Bishop Christopher said: "Meeting the architectural students was hugely enjoyable and stimulating. Their striking and imaginative insights will be both an encouragement and also a challenge to the parishes in which they worked recently. They have inspired us to think more about the impact of our buildings and the way they engage the local community.”

    The finished projects will be used by each of the churches to inform future thinking about the way they engage the wider community and use their buildings and landscapes in welcoming and open ways.