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van Heyningen & Haward’s Elephant & Castle church features textured brickwork

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vHH Architects has completed a new home for the United Reform Church in Elephant & Castle, as part of the ongoing regeneration of the area

The project to replace Crossway Church was triggered by the redevelopment of the Heygate Estate. Southwark Council decided it was also necessary to demolish the church, and so the council and the URC agreed to replace the building on a small plot just to the south of Strata, a 43-storey residential high-rise, and sandwiched between a large housing block and a railway viaduct, with access only possible from the southern end. 

This challenging site, combined with the desired multi-functional use and flexible spaces, presented a complex brief, and vHH Architects organised the building with the main worship area to the north, with a clear linear route from the entrance giving access to all the facilities at both levels. The church office at reception provides an immediate welcome and supervises the entrance, and the two stairs allow the building to be zoned for different uses throughout the day. Generous circulation allows people to gather inside the building before worship or other events.

Crossway church (c) carlo draisci (8)

Crossway church (c) carlo draisci (8)

Source: Carlo Draisci

Upstairs, the secondary worship area can be split into two rooms, and there are several other meeting rooms. The intention is that these will provide accessible and useful space which can be used by a wide variety of community groups.

The building elevations combine textured brick and copper detailing to provide a strong but accessible character, making it stand out as a Christian community centre within its local context. The entrance façade incorporates a large cross within its design, and the crosses formed in the textured brickwork are visible from Elephant & Castle roundabout and from the railway. 

Client’s view

Crossway United Reformed Church has served Elephant & Castle under differing denomination titles for over 150 years. The original building in New Kent Road was replaced with a modern building in 1973 before regeneration of the area resulted in this third incarnation. The common feature of the church has been to serve the community. In the early 20th century this involved jobs clubs, midwifery services, social meeting places and welfare programmes. The context in the early 21st century has changed and the ethnic diversity of the area with the need for first generation immigrants to worship together means the United Reformed Church has reflected on the ministry it offers.

The report Being Built Together (University of Roehampton, June 2013) features the work of Crossway as a case study of new ecumenism. It highlights the theology of hospitality that underpins the ministry of Crossway in sharing its valuable resource of space with others. There are currently 10 congregations using the building and three day centres with more to follow. Crossway United Reformed Church is following the example described in Exodus 12:4: ’If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbour, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.’

Rev Peter Stevenson

517 n386 medium

517 n386 medium


Project data

Start on site Nov 2015
Completion June 2017
Gross internal floor area 692m²
Form of contract or procurement route Design & Build
Construction cost £4 million
Construction cost per m² £5,780
Architect van Heyningen and Haward Architects
Client London Borough of Southwark / URC Reform Church
Structural engineer Parmarbook
M&E consultant Promode Building Services
Project manager Mott MacDonald
CDM coordinator
 TGA Building Consultancy
Main contractor Osborne 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Careful, thoughtful design with a modesty that belies the high quality of planning and detailing.

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