Durban Christian Centre
Size: 6300 m²
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.
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