Discussing 21st Century church design with DKO's Koos de Keijzer

In response to the growing demands to remain relevant and socially progressive in the 21st century, CityLife - a contemporary church located in Wantirna South - engaged DKO Architecture to master plan their campus and design a series of new spaces and buildings.

DKO’s master plan response was to place a collection of buildings around a sheltered, north facing central plaza, which has been conceived as the heart of the church.

Located off the main street, the central plaza provides for before and after church activities, some on-site parking during peak event times and a space large enough to host outdoor events such as the church’s Moonlight Christmas Carols.

CityLife's brief to DKO was for a design which represented the church's inclusive and welcoming culture, with the foyer strategically located on the plaza adjacent to the car parking and major entry road providing legible community access. The foyer has been designed as a double height space with its ground floor providing a permeable interface to the plaza.

The CityLife entry foyer provides a calm and welcoming space for visitors. Image: Tom Roe

The building’s first floor cantilevers to provide shelter and sun shading to ground floor entry foyer, and employs apertures inspired by Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp cathedral, framing key views. Internally a two-storey “urban street” provides circulation and access to all functions rooms including the new Community Care building via an overhead bridge.

The circulation space was combined with social activities like the café and visitor’s lounges to create a social space where"chance meetings are encouraged and new relationships can be fostered."

Urban Melbourne asked DKO Principal Koos de Keijzer to provide some insight on the office's growing body of work in the realms of places of worship, and how the idea of what a church is has evolved.

CityLife's interiors are bathed in natural light. Image: Tom Roe

Urban Melbourne: DKO is renowned for its work in residential and master planning projects but has also worked on churches before. How did the interest in places of worship manifest?

Koos de Keijzer:  I come from a churched background, and spent a lot time in churches when I was young. Most churches are incredibly introverted, dated and slightly kooky. I believe that there is no reason why the spiritual part of a person’s life should not be celebrated in a contemporarily designed environment.

DKO’s first large church project was One Church in Blackburn in Melbourne’s bible belt.

The specific brief was to design a space that the younger teenagers could hang out and feel comfortable in therefore classical ecclesiastical iconography was not considered to be a part of the brief.

The contemporary exterior of CityLife draws on Corbusier's Ronchamp. Image: Tom Roe

UM: What are some of the key themes DKO tries to explore in projects such as CityLife? And how does this differ from residential or other community projects, for example, that the practice has previously worked on?

KdK: A general theme in our church buildings is an ensemble approach of elements that together make up a neighbourhood that is the church.

The key vision for churches is that we always try to make churches very accessible to the wider community – accessibility is both looked at in form and often providing a retail-like edge to the neighbouring environment. And we are always interested in contemporary spaces that inspire and feel great to be in.

Strong inside and outside connections are always looked for, and outside spaces are always used where people can meet and recreate!

Libraries and churches are similar in a lot of their key features, in particular, the desire to provide spaces where people feel comfortable, connected and can reflect.

UM: We're seeing other community buildings such as libraries evolve from the more traditional model into multifaceted buildings which play a greater role within communities than simply storing books - how do you see the role of the church evolving in the 21st century and how can architecture enrich the experience of those who visit for worship or other purposes?

KdK: Many churches that we work on are in reality multi-use entertainment /music facilities that can be used 24 hours a day – 7 days a week.

Acoustics, interior architecture and theatre staging all make the contemporary church auditorium a relevant and meaningful experience in the future.

Many contemporary churches have had an active role in the music industry. The large Hillsong church in Sydney (recently) won an award at the Grammys.

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