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Thursday, 22 May 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Lumen

Lumen URC, formerly known as Regent Square URC, is a church located in the heart of Bloomsbury which has a newly-modernized RIBA award winning building.

The original Regency Gothic Church, which was a miniature version of York Minster, was seriously damaged by bombing in World War II and was completely rebuilt in 1965. Now that building has been completely re-modelled and extended for a new century of service to a changing inner-city residential community, visitors to London and numerous institutions (colleges, hospitals etc.) in the neighbourhood.

Theis and Khan Architects were commissioned to redesign the existing 1960s church building in order to create a new church and community centre open to people of all faiths. Their design retains the original building’s volume and coherence, but adds new amenities – an entrance, a lift, toilets, offices, multi-use spaces and a courtyard garden planted with herbs and silver birch trees. The garden provides a modern form of cloister with an arcade around the courtyard

A new conical shell-like 'sacred space' reaches through the full 11m height of the building to penetrate the existing church roof, primarily to receive direct natural light. The light inside alters with weather and seasons, which was intended to convey a sense of peace and separation from the bustle of the outside world. The position of this sacred space at the heart of lumen provides a secluded area for contemplation.

Lumen also has a small gallery which showcases the work of local artists, photographers and students. On the day I visited, the exhibition was Within you Without you which featured four artists (Angela Eden, Sandra Jacobs, Dorothea Magonet and Mary Ottaway) using sculpture, drawing, photography and installation to respond to the word “Lumen” and to the physical and spiritual space it inhabits.

A 1966 stained glass window designed by Pierre Fourmaintraux was retained within the building by moving it from the west side wall to make it central to the church. This window contains over 1,000 pieces of one inch thick glass in 21 panels. Each piece was expertly cut by hand, by scoring the glass on the surface and hitting it with a hammer on a small anvil so the piece would break cleanly. The surface of the glass was chipped, so that sunlight striking the glass goes in all directions.

The window represents the Resurrection and is based on a passage from the final chapter of Matthew’s gospel. It shows Christ risen from the tomb at the top carrying the flag of a red cross on a white background. At the bottom is a representation of spears and the bowed figure of Mary. It therefore evokes ideas from Renaissance pictures of the cross and resurrection.

Fourmaintraux worked for James Powell & Sons (Whitefriars Limited) between 1956 to 1969 as chief designer of slab glass and abstract designs. He was born in Northern France, where his father owned a ceramics factory, in which he initially worked.  He married an English wife, Rachel Winslow, who was an Impressionist painer and settled in England, ultimately in Harrow.  While in France he produced some conventional leaded stained glass, but he changed after World War II to a method known as dalle de verre, consisting of abstract designs, made of thick, small, dark pieces of glass set in concrete.  He produced such windows for Whitefriars and they were especially popular in Roman Catholic churches.

‘Dalle’ is French for slab or tile. The window is made from by assembling small pieces of glass, about one inch (22mm) thick, which have been carefully chipped and shaped with a tungsten hammer, before they are set in concrete. The concrete is reinforced, vibrated and cured to make a resilient and secure frame for the glass. This technique is sometimes called ‘faceted’ glass. The effect is to create window panels of extraordinary brilliance and colour; jewel-like concrete-set stained glass which is eminently complementary to much of present-day architecture. Dalle de verre windows are widely used in the USA and in Continental Europe.

Following an invited competition, Rona Smith and Alison Wilding were selected to create new site-specific works for Lumen as part of the rebuilding of the church undertaken by Theis and Khan. Smith’s North Elevation is an 8 metre tall bronze screen suspended within the alcove of the window, gently arcing into the interior space. The screen’s geometric spiral design is traditionally found in many sacred contexts including Christian, Islamic, Greek and Roman architecture as well as Hindu and Buddhist designs. Wilding created a trio of objects: a new font, a drinking fountain and a garden fountain. Fundamental to each of the works are the themes of ‘living water’ and light.

The artwork for the building also reflects the United Reformed Church’s tradition of open, inclusive and accessible worship. Lumen’s small worshipping community is made up from people of different backgrounds, countries and ages who are open in outlook hoping that anyone from whatever background, religious or other, will feel welcome and at ease with them. As the church is used for Christian services as well as a variety of community activities, the commissions embody these values, being universal and accessible in both their design and imagery.


Dillard and Clark - Out On The Side.

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