by Francis Terry
Tuesday, 9
June 2020

No wonder the Church of England rejected my library design

The institution is trying too hard to be trendy
by Francis Terry
Entry design for the Lambeth Palace Library by Francis Terry

Back in 2015 there was a competition to design a new library for Lambeth Palace. My scheme was up against the great and the good of the architectural establishment. I decided to design a Gothic style library reminiscent of the other buildings of Lambeth Palace. To avoid a huge tower with no windows overshadowing the garden, I decided to put all the archive space underground. It was a concept that would be more detailed and rationalised if my design was chosen by the judges. It is extremely rare for traditional designs like mine to win prestigious architectural competitions and so it came as no surprised when my scheme was rejected at the first available moment.

I had almost forgotten about my entry when I saw the finished library built. In fairness, I do not actually think it is too bad. But as a little trip down Memory Lane, I rummaged around some old drawers and found my entry. It was not drawn up in any great detail because it was rejected so early on. For a bit of fun, I posted it on Twitter and to my surprise it got a massive response from people who seemed mystified that a traditional design which aimed to emulate the Gothic context of Lambeth Palace was not seriously considered. Many architects endearingly leapt to the defence of the built library and commenting that it was somehow in bad taste that I posted this image, or ‘shameful bullying’ as one tweeter said. Admittedly it did provoke many to be quite rude about the built library but I certainly was not. I thought, in the spirit of openness, it would be interesting for people to know what other architects suggested.

Lambeth Palace Library. Design by Robert Kwolek

On reflection I was foolish to even think that The Church of England would consider a traditional design. They are an institution whose greatest resource is their traditions but instead of embracing them, they seem to prefer ignoring them in a rather sad and desperate attempt to be ‘trendy’ and  ‘relevant to the young’. It’s all rather embarrassing; like people over forty disco dancing or wearing hoodies. I am not a regular churchgoer, but on the very rare occasions that I do find myself at a church service, I have to endure guitars and clapping rather than the serenity of a nice old hymn or the beautiful poetry of the King James Version. The Church of England’s attitude to architecture is just the same and my scheme for the library is a casualty of this rather unfortunate attitude.

Join the discussion

  • The ugliness of much modern architecture is part of the reason we have a housing crisis. People worry about what will be built in their area. A return to beauty, proportion and symmetry would be appreciated by many and reduce resistance to new builds.

  • I am not a regular church goer either. And Mr Terry summarises why; the church has thrown away faith and tradition and calmness in favour of hipness, endless “modernisation”, and discordance.

  • The Church of England was showing signs of going off the rails in the 1960s. By the time the re-draft of the Book of Common Prayer was released, it was clear that the “children of a lesser god” had assumed control of the organization. It has continued its drift into irrelevancy ever since.

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