Denizen Works’ £650,000 floating church has completed and is now moored in its new home beside Here East at the Olympic Park.
The Genesis is a purpose-built 8.5m wide-beam canal boat with a unique concertina roof made from translucent folded sailcloth.
When open this bellows-like structure increases the height of the space to 3.6m and acts as a beacon of light drawing people along the towpath to the church. When closed the boat can fit through narrow tunnels and ultimately head to a new mooring.
The plan for the next 25 years is for it to host a new church, St Columba East, which has been commissioned by the Church of England, to serve the brand-new and growing communities around the Olympic Park, including Sweetwater, Eastwick and Hackney Wick.
The 45sq m space, which includes a kitchen, office and toilet as well as the church, will also host community projects such as parent-and-toddler groups and supper clubs.
The interior, designed by Denizen Works to seat 40, features light plywood walls and marine-style bulkhead lights, a green linoleum floor, a prow-like folding altar and built-in Valchromat benches for seating and storage along the sides of the room. Other furniture, designed by local firm Plyco, includes plywood stools and foldable tables.
The sail stitching used on the bellows has been applied as a motif throughout and is carried through to a number of interior details including: aluminium window screens inspired by rood screens; the pattern of the tiling in the kitchen; and in the form of the legs of the bespoke furniture. It is also repeated externally in a frieze painted by a local signwriter that wraps the roof.
Murray Kerr, founding director of Denizen Works, said: “The project showcases what we think our practice is best at: providing innovative and joyful design solutions by drawing on the skills of a close network of collaborators.
“As a mixed-use faith and community project, we feel the boat could be a first step in our thinking about how communities can continue to be served as they grow and move away from traditional locations and building types. Most of all, the project demonstrates what can be achieved when a brave client with an exciting brief believes in an ambitious design team.”
>> From the archive: Technical Study: Floating church, London
The Diocese of London conceived the idea of a floating church in late 2016 when it realised the new neighbourhoods being built around the Olympic Park were linked by canals. It launched an invited competition and Denizen Works beat off entries from what Kerr called “the generation above us” – 6a, Carmody Groarke and Duggan Morris, which had already designed a floating cinema.
St Columba East will be led by Dave Pilkington, who was ordained last year and served on Genesis’ predecessor, the interim vessel Elsdale II.
He said: “The sight of Genesis on the banks of the River Lee Navigation is fantastic. With so many changes happening in Hackney Wick and Fish Island, we must constantly seek ways to help build community, so I am pleased to report that St Columba East is a community going from strength to strength.
“With Genesis now in situ we can look forward to the next phase of growth, now with a space to support our desire for action, reflection and contemplation.”
He said they were carefully working out how to protect people before opening their doors during the pandemic.
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said: “The delivery of the vessel marks the completion of an ambitious four-year project to create a unique resource that will inspire new and creative ministry in communities throughout east London. It is only the beginning for the vessel, Genesis, which starts its journey in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park but will move along the canals of east London in the years to come, inspiring dynamic religious growth across this diverse and ever-changing city.”
Genesis was built at Turks Shipyard in Chatham, Kent, with the assistance of naval architect Tony Tucker.