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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 11. 1965.

Church Design Group: Cathedral Design Criticised

page 11

Church Design Group: Cathedral Design Criticised

—Church and People photo.

Church and People photo.

Opposition to various aspects of the design for St Paul's Cathedral has been voiced recently. The opposition comes from the Church Design Group, an organisation formed recently, although not for the specific purpose of criticising the cathedral's design.

The Group, chaired by John Roberts, proposes to study the nature of church building, both from the architectural and aesthetic point of view and from a consideration of social and liturgical movements influencing the Church.

A public meeting of the Design Group was recently held at St Peter's, Willis Street. The Dean of St Paul's, the Very Rev. W. Hurst, and representatives from the architectural firm of King and Dawson were present to provide background information on the cathedral project. They also answered questions put by members of the audience.

Dean Hurst spoke first, reading a "functional brief" presented to the present architects by standing committee, and expressing his opinions on the need for a cathedral as a tangible link between the city and God.

He estimated that the present plan would provide for almost 2000 worshippers, and that the cost so far bad amounted to approximately £390,000.

Mr. King, of King and Dawson, outlined the background to the drawing-up of the original plan by Mr. Cecil Wood. Mr. King expressed his personal view that the day of the cathedral was past.

With the exception of festivals, he said, such a building could not fulfil the functions of earlier times, and church building should now centre round the parish unit.


Discussion and the showing of several slides followed, with questions directed primarily at the Dean, and one of the architects, Mr. C. Whitwell. Architectural, liturgical and moral aspects of the project were discussed.

Architecturally, the great problem has been the marriage of a new design to the old, and in this respect Sir Basil Spence had encouraged innovation. As the Dean said, the city has its cathedral and all that can be done is to extend the existing building, to "accept what we couldn't change, and change what we could."

Liturgically, the relevance of the "cathedral concept" to twentieth century life was questioned. One member of the group argued that the days when uneducated medievalites had to be awed into submission to God by means of a soaring structure were past. This to his mind, had always been the primary function of a cathedral.


Is such an argument pertinent at this point? As John Roberts said, it would be disastrous for humanity if we did lose our sympathy for soaring structures. Furthermore, there ARE functions and services that only a cathedral could fulfil—it is the task of the parish church to provide a gathering of the faithful round the altar of God.

The commitment to a cathedral has been made, and discussion is only relevant if centered round the use that can be made of the existing portion of the building.

Doubts were raised about the morality of spending vast sums of money on a cathedral when there are so many more pressing problems, such as the financing of parish facilities, and the building of hostels.


The functions of a cathedral, the Dean pointed out, could be expected to broaden with the increasing opportunities for combined worship. As he sees it, the most important task is to bring the project to its fruition, because of the difficulties that would be involved in "getting the balloon in the air again once it was brought down."

Chairman John Rouens brought the meeting to a close at 10.30 by thanking the Dean and the architects for coming along, and expressing a note of disquiet that, as yet, unanimity of opinion did not exist towards this most important undertaking.

Asking the Dean

Afterwards, I spoke to the Dean about the model at present under consideration. It was accepted by the last Synod as a preliminary plan, and a committee was set up to decide upon a final plan to be presented to a special meeting of Synod pencilled in for November.

This model differs considerably from the original, though the narrow nature of the section has limited the architects to basically the same ground. Glass and prestressed concrete will now be used, taking advantage of technological developments made since the 1930s. One of the most dominant features will be the glass frontage. The cruciform pillars have been reduced from the size originally considered necessary.

Several commemorative chapels, for which money was left, have been dispensed with, but what they were to represent will be incorporated into the design of the cathedral itself. The whole building will admit a lot more light than would have been possible with the original lancet windows. As yet, no satisfactory design has been submitted for the tower.


The main functions which the Dean considers the cathedral will be used for are combined church services, national and diocesan occasions, various service reunions, and requests have been received from a number of organisations to hold their annual meetings there.

I asked the Dean if he felt that criticism of the new model could serve any useful purpose at this stage, and he said it most certainly could. Until the recommendation of a design to Synod in November, any number of constructive ideas would be considered if submitted.