Monday, December 23, 2013

Barney's on Broadway

St. Barnabas Church was rebuilt last year after a devastating fire. The architects - Sydney's Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp - were inspired by the work of another very well known architect for their design. Can you guess who? 

The original church, which stood on the same spot on Broadway since the 19th century, originally had a decidedly traditional look to it. 

The first stone of this church was laid in 1858. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. 
It was famous for its work catering to the poor of Sydney and served a valued social function. It was also famous for its witty battles of words with the pub across the street. The church would often put up a thought-provoking message on its sign board, and the pub across the street would respond in kind. For example, St. Barnabas wrote "Money does not make you happy" and the pub across the street responded with "I'd rather be rich and happy than poor and happy". The colorful dialog was a source of amusement for Sydneysiders for years. 

Alas, in May of 2006, the church was completely gutted in a fire. 

Barney's, the morning after the fire. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
To replace it, the parishioners of this Anglican church opted for a modern design, and turned to some of Sydney's most well known architects to create it. The result is beautiful and quite remarkable. Alas, it's not exactly original. 

That clerestory in the form of a Cross in the facade, and how it translates into a Cross of Light in the front atrium, is reminiscent of Tadao Ando's Church of Light (see below). 

Church of Light by Tadao Ando. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

But move inside to the church hall itself and you see that we've quickly traveled from Japan to Denmark. 

In what I suspect is a giant clin d'oeil to Jørn Utzon, the interior strongly resembles his Bagsværd Church, which was his first project after his return from Sydney after the Opera House debacle. 

Bagsværd Church by Jørn Utzon. Photo by SEIER & SEIER. 
Yes, the scale is different, and there are clear differences. But the concept and general ideas are too similar to be a mere coincidence. Still, it's beautifully done and quite successful in the design. The parishioners report being very happy with the design and it's very striking when you experience it in person. 

Oh, and a nice touch is that those famous sign battles - including both the church's sayings AND the pub's responses - have been engraved into the glass of the gates around the new church for all to read. 


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