Britain’s Got Church Talent! Twenty places of worship have been shortlisted in a competition to find the 10 best churches built in the last 60 years. Only three are from the last decade: the Stirling Prize-nominated Bishop Edward King Chapel near Oxford; the Chapel of St Albert the Great in Edinburgh; and the quirky Lumen United Reformed Church in London.
The 20 shortlisted churches are a pretty engrossing bunch, architecturally. But that’s not surprising: church design has been at the cutting edge of modernism since 1923, when Auguste Perret’s elegant concrete church at Raincy, France, introduced a shock-of-the-new approach to ecclesiastical architecture.
The almost fungal form of Le Corbusier’s 1954 Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, also in France, remains the icon-of-icons to many architects.
The buildings on the shortlist, drawn up by the National Churches Trust, the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association, and the 20th Century Society, are not in that stellar league, but several are among the most important British works of modern architecture, of any type.
For example, the sacred wow-factor is very apparent in St Bride’s Church in Lanarkshire, designed by the radical Scottish practice, Gillespie Kidd and Coia in the late 1950s. Some will think it looks like a power station, but the fearless toughness of its design has made it legendary in the canon of British modernist design.
On the other hand, the fusion of modern and ancient forms and details in the Scargill Chapel in Yorkshire, by George Pace, plays tricks with time; and the swooping roof-line of Sam Scorer’s St John the Baptist Church, Lincoln, takes the idea of sacred space into the realms of lift-off. And at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Leicester, TE Wilson dared to use the circle – an essentially pagan shape – to produce a building of great presence.
Not all the shortlisted churches are attractive. To say that the English Martyrs Church in Wallasey, designed in the 1950s by FX Velarde, is stolid would be putting it very mildly.
However, as in all the 20 churches on the shortlist, the congregation will be praying that their place of worship is deemed worthy of one of the ten Diamond Jubilee architecture awards, when they’re announced on 7 November.