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St.James Uniting Church: Binding the Edge

Part 1 Project 2003
Hannah Jonasson
Loretta Collins
University of Canberra Canberra Australia
The St. James Uniting church required a new development to be established on an existing residential park overlooked by a local shopping centre. By tweaking the commercial fabric into the green belt, a raised community plaza was formed as a platform in the park – exploring the notion of an UrbanPark. The church hangs along the edge of the platform, taking no authority over park or plaza.

A ramp slices its descent through the monolithic platform to emerge within the church narthex, then pierces and projects beyond the face of the podium. A processional volume returns along the outer face as a meditative journey to the Worship Space. Hovering above the landscape, light is delivered over the podium, with ancillary spaces integrated within its mass.

Metaphorically, the church is a thread that binds a united community with private meditation; plaza with park; worldly with godly. Spaces are created by multiple threads rising, folding and punctuating the platform edge – introducing a dialect between private and public realms, articulation and concealment. The congregation woven between the two realms, recognises the value, fragility, and subtle complexity of this intrinsic relationship.

Without overt evangelism, the community is drawn through their own initiative and site interaction. Rather than becoming the iconic object, the church takes its position as the Edge, speaking a more meaningful presence through its humility, simplicity, and groundedness.

Hannah Jonasson
Loretta Collins

While much architecture today resorts to visual spectacle, Hannah’s design for the Uniting Church derives a potent conceptual, tectonic, and experiential ontology from the complexities of space, place and program.

The Uniting Church seeks contemporary relevance in society without orthodox doctrines. The brief envisaged a church occupying an accessible, interactive position in the community. The vacant, elevated, sloping site lies at a nexus of commerce, parkland, transit and suburbia.

Hannah’s scheme begins by cutting and forming the landscape to define a raised edge between collective urban space and individual green space. The platform created gathers the urban space and draws it towards the edge. This foundation is then exploited by the church, which broaches, binds and violates the threshold of the two realms, both in plan and section, structurally and spatially. In so doing, it assumes an interstitial, almost ethereal position in the landscape, neither dominant or subordinate, thus articulating the crux of the program.

The architecture is precise yet indeterminate, subtle yet dramatic. The distinction between building and landscape is questioned, orchestrated by movement through horizontal and vertical space.

Hannah has demonstrated exceptional critical thinking and architectural maturity in this rigorous and compelling work.

Mr Gerard Bareham
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