Page 6, 3rd March 1967

3rd March 1967
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Page 6, 3rd March 1967 — Making the best use of our architects
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Making the best use of our architects

GERARD GOALEN discusses the

implications of briefing, design and construction

MY PURPOSE in this article is to suggest to parish priests and building committees how they might make the best use of the services available from the architectural profession; and how the processes of briefing, design and construction are arranged.

There is often a good reason for the appointment of the architect at the earliest possible moment. For example, if the site is not already purchased, he can offer advice on its suitability. But if the site is already chosen it may be better for the parish priest and his committee to delay the appointment until they have given very careful thought to their needs.

It is possible for a marvellous building to result from

the simplest instructions: "Here is the site. we want a church to accommodate 400 people; we can't spend more than £50,000 on the building and professional fees, but we hope to have another f2,000 for sculpture and painting."

If the architect has a real insight into the problems of church design, and the patience to obtain a more precise brief by question and discussion, all may be well. But it is wiser for the parish to decide themselves on their needs in some considerable detail and then to consider whom they should ask to translate their requirements into a building.

The choice of an architect is of great importance: the most careful briefing and the most convenient and practical solution of the planning problems is of limited value if the result is a banal design, a piece of non-architecture which will be consciously depressing to anyone of sensitivity and unconsciously depressing to everybody else.

At the end of this article is a list of publications which might give some guidance to

members of the building committee before they meet to formulate their requirements. The "Check List for a Modern Church" published by the University of Birmingham might form the framework for an oral or written brief for the architect.

The brief should be regarded to begin with as a flexible instrument, not a rigid directive: there may be conflicting requirements, the architect may, from his experience, suggest modifications, the site may impose difficult conditions. So the brief should be tentative until the architect is appointed, and it may be varied in detail after he has presented his preliminary proposals.

An architect experienced in church design may well have some contribution to make in the formulation of the instructions to which he himself is to work. A talented and conscientious architect with no experience at all of church design will take the trouble to acquaint himself with the theological and liturgical background and with the practical problems, and he may well produce a better building than the established designer of churches.

A man who has never designed a church should certainly not be ruled out: an architect is trained to analyse any building problem and to produce a building for any purpose. But it is wise to give special care to the details of the brief if the architect is designing his first Catholic church.

The choice of architects

The Diocesan Building Commission will have to be asked to approve the choice of an architect, and they or the Royal Institute of British Architects (which maintains an index of architects' work) could be asked td suggest a list of name from which an architect might be selected.

The architects suggested could be asked to send photographs of their work, and before a final choice is made one or two of them could be invited to meet the parish priest and the committee. It would, however, be wrong to ask more than one architect to prepare a sketch design, except under competition conditions approved by the R.I.B.A.

No reputable architect would knowingly prepare a "competitive" design unless the recognised procedures were followed. There is a good reason for this: the architect is remunerated solely by his client's fees, and if he were paid for perhaps only one building in every five he designed his charges would be very high.

Design and building

This does not mean that the first design he produces must be accepted : it is not unusual for the preliminary design to be modified several times before the scheme is finally approved, although if the client's requirements are substantially altered in the process, the architect may be obliged to charge additional fees.

When the design is approved by the parish priest and his committee (or perhaps at an earlier stage), the architect will recommend the appointment of a quantity surveyor who will give preliminary advice on costs, and will later prepare a "bill of quantities" and look after some the financial aspects of the building contracts. The architect may at this stage also wish to recommend the appointment of a structural engineer and other consultants.

The design will have to be submitted for the approval of the Diocese and of the local authorities. The next step is the preparation of design details and production drawings. Ample time should be allowed for this stage of the work: the architect will advise on the time required, and he will perhaps be more inclined to be optimistic than pessimistic in his assessment. When drawings have been completed to show every detail, the quantity surveyor will prepare his bill of quantities. and a number of builders (recommended by the architect and approved by the client) will be asked to submit tenders for the work.

Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the lowest tender is normally accepted, a contract is signed and building work starts. The time allowed for completion may be stipulated when tenders are invited, or the builders tendering may be asked to state how much time they will require.

After the church is completed and handed over to the parish, the builder is responsible for a period (usually six months) for any faults which may appear due to defective materials or workmanship. A list of these faults is made and the builder is asked to put them right.

Meanwhile, the quantity surveyor prepares and agrees the final account, and after a final inspection of the building the remainder of the money due to the builder is paid.

Modifications of the old The procedures I have outlined do not vary very much whether the project is a new building or the conversion of a "non-participational" church

into one which encourages former spectators of the liturgy to become participants.

In this case there are special problems—the continued use of the building during conversion, for example—but the process is the same : assessment of needs and resources, preliminary brief, choice of architect, final brief, preliminary design. final design and estimate of cost, detailed drawings, bills of quantities, tenders, and finally the work of construction.

Furnishings in church The heavy fixed articles of furniture in a church usually form part of the building contract and are designed by the architect—altar, ambo, communion rails, font, seating, sacristy fittings. Other things— tabernacle candlesticks, sculp

ture, stained glass—are usually ordered separately, although tht builder will be required to fix some of them.

Whether the builder is involved or not, the architect certainly should be. He should be made responsible for the total appearance of the building, and it is folly not to seek his collaboration in the commissioning of artists and craftsmen.

I have outlined the stages in

the building process. The procedures may seem complex, but the object is simple: the production of a building which will adequately fulfil—and express—its purpose.

It should represent good value for money, whether it costs £10,000 or £100,000. It must be satisfactory acoustically, well heated, easy to maintain; but it should also delight the eye and the spirit of everyone who uses it.




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