Dow Jones Architects’ extension revitalises one of GE Street’s London churches
Dow Jones Architects’ extension to St Mary Magdalene, in Paddington, west London, forms part of the opening up of the church to the community, with the addition of new level access and new facilities. The grade-I-listed church was designed by G E Street, built in 1869 as a mission church planted by All Saints Margaret Street to serve the poor of Paddington. It shares with All Saints a richness of materials; an investment in craftsmanship to provide an uplifting place of worship for local people.
The new building slots into a constricted site between the church and its school, connecting the church, school, canalside park and street across a six-metre change in levels. The site formed an underused part of the school playground, and is 2.5 metres wide at its narrowest. Now it contains a cafe, an education room, volunteer space, lift and WCs.
Dow Jones has restored the historic fabric of the church in collaboration with Caroe Architecture. The undercroft has new level access, while former vestries have been converted into staff offices and a new vestry created for the parish.
The material strategy was informed by the church’s language of brick and stone. The brick and its stained mortar together create a cohesive appearance that facilitates reading the brickwork as a solid plane. Stone delineates the church’s openings, changes in level and shifts in plane. This material language was adapted for a contemporary response, using faience – glazed terracotta – for walls and precast concrete for openings.
Faience: Dow Jones was interested in the way that the interior of the church uses the same two materials – brick and stone – but with applied decoration, bas-relief, glazed and unglazed tiles to the aisle walls (which create a dappled effect as you go past), a clay tiled floor and pietra dura decoration to the chancel.
Wanting to reflect this highly decorated interior externally, the practice developed faience – glazed terracotta – tiles with Darwen Terracotta. The tiles have a highly-reflective glaze that reacts to changing light conditions, their metallic hue ranging from golden to black. The joints are mortared to give the faience wall a cohesive appearance in the same way as the brickwork.
A relief frieze wraps round the five separate facades of the new building, visually banding them together. The enlarged abstracted motifs are based on a study made of the church’s tiled floor, their raised ribs catching the light.
Printed tiles: Community engagement formed an important part of the project. Dow Jones worked with artist Linda Florence who ran tile-printing workshops for heritage volunteers and local schoolchildren. Paper cut-out patterns were produced from their artwork, and printed directly onto tiles using a sublimation ink process.
Participants were able to keep their hand-printed tile, and digitally-printed copies of the individual tiles were installed in the building as part of a series of larger murals by Linda Florence.
Metalwork: The balustrades of the central stair comprise a series of flat steel uprights, painted in a micaceous iron-oxide paint that is normally used as an industrial primer. It gives a rough-textured matt finish, to add to the sense that the foyer is an enclosed external space. The handrails, in contrast, are satin stainless steel, much smoother to the touch. Stainless steel is also used for other touch points within the building: door handles, taps, switch plates and the cafe counter.
Outside steel balustrades and window frames have a pearlescent dark bronze powdercoat that complements the colour of the faience and provides a contrast to the light colour of the concrete, echoing that between the church’s dark ferramenta – the supporting ironwork for stained glass windows – and Portland stone window surrounds. A brown-coloured zinc, which clads the roof lanterns, parapets and flashings, completes the warm colour palette.
Steel nosings: The stair nosings are made of cast steel by AATI, who make many of the familiar brass nosings seen on the London Underground. Black was chosen to make a visual contrast with the in-situ concrete staircase and relates to other metalwork in the church. The dates cast into each nosing together form a timeline running up the stair, based on research by local heritage volunteers. Corresponding tiles are cast into the adjacent concrete wall.
Concrete: The new building is made of in-situ concrete with precast concrete elements, in response to the in-situ cast concrete vaults of the church undercroft. The vaults have a pink pigmentation, thanks to the use of ground brick as an aggregate and brickdust sprinkled on the formwork.
In-situ concrete is left exposed on the ceilings throughout. The foyer and staircase can be read as a space that was once external, with their strong natural light, unadorned materials, the new exposed concrete and the old facades of neighbouring brick buildings. The same precast concrete used externally forms giant lintels to new internal openings between the church and the new building.
Outside, smooth, acid-etched precast concrete outlines the windows and doors, its light colour matching the Portland stone of the church. Its high mica content makes the concrete glisten in sunlight.
Douglas fir: In the new building Douglas fir has been used for doors, signage panels, window linings, furniture and skirtings, chosen for its pronounced grain and warm colour.
While the existing woodwork in the church is dark, oiled oak, Douglas fir was used for any new joinery in order to tie together Dow Jones’s interventions. This consists of new doors, panelling, cupboards and the boxing-in of services.