Standing Firm in Faith After a Fire

DCC4

Durban Christian Centre

DCC4

Size: 6300 m²  

Completed: 2021  

Location: Mayville, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal  

Rising from the ashes after a devastating fire, the rebuilt Durban Christian Centre cuts a powerful image in its context. Designed by Elphick Proome Architects to accommodate a congregation of 3500 members, the auditorium, chapel, and teaching areas amalgamate to form a single church precinct in the heart of Durban.   

Context and brief  

A spiritual home to more than 5500 congregants and a local informal settlement, the loss of the well-known church was a devastating blow to the community. Therefore, with very strong emotional ties to the original ‘Jesus Dome’ built in the 90s, the client wanted to retain and reinforce the original quality of the landmark church. However, simply replacing the original dome was not an architecturally sound idea, both spatially and acoustically. As such, the challenge was to combine the idea of a dome with an acoustically-superb auditorium, served by a multitude of related spaces.   

Design concept 

After extensive architectural and engineering research on how to support an economical, long-span roof over a 3500-seat auditorium, the team decided on three connecting arches – effectively ‘slivers’ of a sphere – that would suspend an enclosure over an acoustically-planned auditorium. This solution delivers the two primary goals of the design brief: an iconic ‘virtual dome’ and a church space with excellent acoustic properties. The auditorium as the core space is enveloped by the entrance, foyer, a small chapel, upper-level teaching spaces, and performance and technical service functions.   

Unpacking the design  

The visual strength of the virtual ‘dome’ serves as a unique urban feature. Its vast structure dominates from a distance when seen from the adjacent highway. And sculpturally, the church entices passers-by on street-access level, welcoming congregants through its striking entrance. This powerful architectural element is counterpointed by a series of simple enclosures that respond transparently or solidly to outdoor spaces. Veiled screens deliver an external fine-grained scale, juxtaposing the overt dominance of the arches.   

Unlike many charismatic churches that thrive in wealthy societies, the Durban Christian Centre serves a less privileged community. Therefore, the severe financial limitations in budget consistently impacted this project, halting construction for some months and necessitating considerable resourcefulness. The combination of strong leadership, a vibrant community, and the meaningfulness found within their personal faith, served us well as architects. The materials, finishes, and services were treated as raw and stripped down to their bare state to create an honest and authentic quality. This is evident where some of the elements that were saved from the church fire were incorporated into the interior design. 

From a technical point of view, the building embodies significant creativity. The limited footprint auditorium was entirely acoustically derived, incorporating complex diffusion and bespoke absorption panels in consultation with an engineer. However, the real innovation lies in the auditorium’s roof structure where an intensely collaborative design process demystified complex engineering geometry and the execution of unconventional construction methodologies. The elegant steel arches sprung off massive concrete anchors, celebrate the memory of the original Jesus Dome while allowing the new structure to become an iconic urban landmark in its own right. This technical achievement has been recognised by the steel industry for the ingenuity and innovation displayed through the use of steel to produce such a unique project.  

MEET THE TEAM   

Architect: Elphick Proome Architects  

Main contractor: Stefanutti Stocks  

Project manager: M3 Africa Consulting  

HVAC engineer: Spoormaker & Partners  

Quantity surveyor: RLB Pentad  

Electrical engineer: Arup  

Interior design: Novospace, Mike Long  

Wet services engineer: Spoormaker & Partners  

Fire engineer: Spoormaker & Partners  

Structural and civil engineer: NJV Consulting Engineers  

Photographer: Karl Beath  

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