“Take me to church” just got a new meaning. Sure, The Floating Genesis Church is not the first, nor the last we are going to see of its kind, but it brings out a whole other presentation to its method of “being” and design. The church/chapel is subtle poetry of visual and spiritual delight, a product of the synthesis of ecclesiastical and maritime architecture designed by Denizen Works. It is a fresh approach to the conventionality of both worlds. The Genesis Church is almost radical, due to its sculptural simplicity and the brilliant attractiveness of t minimalism. Truly novel.

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Floating Genesis church crowned by luminous pop-up roof designed by Denizen Works - Sheet1
Floating Genesis Church ©Gilbert McCarragher

Floating Genesis Church

Denizen Works, with offices based in London and Glasgow, were commissioned by The Diocese of London to design a mobile establishment for a new congregation in the capital of England. And so they did. In collaboration with Turks Shipyard and naval architect Tony Tucker the unorthodox canal-boat church/chapel was realized in March 2020. It is currently moored on the River Lee Navigation near Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where it will remain for three to five years as a worshiping assembly space-base for the St. Columba East community, before sailing off to reach and support other canal-side communities.  

The Genesis Church will be “kept afloat” with the help of £10,000 funding from AllChurches Trust.

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Floating Genesis church crowned by luminous pop-up roof designed by Denizen Works - Sheet2
Floating Genesis Church ©Gilbert McCarragher

The Character and Purposefulness of Genesis Church

The floating church/chapel gets its name after the first book in the Bible, Genesis, and serves as an epitome of elegance, simplicity, and functionality, due to its modular design. It is designed with the purpose to be a place of learning and well-being, a community hub with mobility and flexibility in the programme that will benefit the diverse neighborhoods amid regenerative sites such as Hackney Wick, Eastwick, and Sweetwater. 

Genesis Church is not a regular church, it is a cool church. Its design offers potential for a wide range of community activities and services, functions of a different character, school-related events, variety of gatherings: Yoga and Pilates classes, Art classes, parent-children groups, live music, support workshops and counseling, lunch and supper clubs, interfaith celebrations, community development programmes, and even theatre.

This vessel of joy is led by the Reverend Dave Pilkington, as captain of the ship. Genesis church will steer the growing canal communities into a refreshed avenue of action, reflection, and contemplation, inspiring a dynamic religious growth of diversity for people of all faiths and none.  

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Floating Genesis church crowned by luminous pop-up roof designed by Denizen Works - Sheet3
Floating Genesis Church ©Gilbert McCarragher

Behind the Roof Design of Genesis Church

Probably the most unconventional characteristic of the Genesis Church is its roof. It is an expandable kinetic roof, inspired by organ bellows and the transformative qualities of Volkswagen camper vans. It was designed with the purpose to draw attention to the venue, which truth to be told, in my humble opinion, is a discernible “here I am” detail, creatively maneuvered in such an effortless way, that one cannot simply disregard it. The Genesis Church roof is an architectural statement of presence and a good one at that. The pop-up roof is crafted from concertinaed, translucent sailcloth, lined with LED lights, intended as a “guiding pharos” of sorts when expended. It is powered by hydraulic ramps, easily lowered and raised at the push of a button, depending on the need. A low-lying structure that can pass through the narrowest canal-tunnels and beneath the bridges of London (lowered motion), and when moored, it expands into a dramatic beacon of light, easily noticed from afar. When in a raised position, the head height of the barge is 3.6m at its highest point, creating a comfortable and accessible interior. 

Floating Genesis church crowned by luminous pop-up roof designed by Denizen Works - Sheet4
Floating Genesis Church ©www.denizenworks.com
Floating Genesis church crowned by luminous pop-up roof designed by Denizen Works - Sheet5
Floating Genesis Church ©Gilbert McCarragher

The Interior 

The Genesis Church designed by Denizen Works is 8.5m long, with a total floor space of 60m2. It is classified as a boarded mid-ship, with light plywood walls and a dusky-green linoleum floor in the interior. The functionality of the interior of the church is achieved by modularity and timeless design which upholds a policy of overt lack of religious symbolism, ensuring open hospitality to all. The main hall is a gallery with minimal furniture, custom-designed plywood stools, and foldable tables, designed by local design company Plyco, and built-in Valchromat benches providing storage and sitting, positioned along both longitudinal sides of the hall. Bulkhead lights, apart from the apparent source of light in the hall-the roof, provide a diffused type of lighting-attribute that an intimate atmosphere such as an ecclesiastical place would require. The expansive nature of the hall provided by the roof offers space capacity for 40 people when seated, and 60 people when standing.

In addition to the bespoke furniture, Denizen Works designed the altar as well, fabricated type of furniture, with an angled-front face, designed to fold down into a flack pack for easy storage.

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Floating Genesis church crowned by luminous pop-up roof designed by Denizen Works - Sheet6
Floating Genesis Church ©Gilbert McCarragher

The Exterior 

Genesis Church’s entrance is positioned next to the main hall, at the front of the barge, and in addition to it, there is also an office, a kitchen, and a toilet at the rear of the boat. The exterior is painted in a traditional maritime palette of colors, and on the roof fascia, a zigzag shape pattern is painted, mirroring the sail-stitching used to create the bellows. The pattern is also used as a decorative detail in the interior: on the aluminum screens of the windows, on the tiling in the kitchen, and on the legs of the furniture.

Floating Genesis church crowned by luminous pop-up roof designed by Denizen Works - Sheet7
Floating Genesis Church ©Gilbert McCarragher
Floating Genesis Church ©Gilbert McCarragher

A film about Genesis Church, directed and edited by Camilla Robinson Kerr, produced by Dapper Films:

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Author

Viktorija Vitanova is a fifth-year student at the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Architecture, Slovenia. She received a bachelor’s degree of Arts in Architecture from American College Skopje, North Macedonia. Her interests lie in the theory of architecture, an abstract undertake of architectural projects, and the socio-psychological aspect of architecture.

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