A wide-beam canal boat topped with a pop-up roof and populated by at least one contemplative-looking man of the cloth is now moored alongside the Here East tech campus at Hackney Wick, East London. As for the resident cleric, the eye-catching vessel, designed by London-based architecture studio Denizen Works in collaboration with Turks Shipyard and naval architect Tony Tucker, is indeed a fully functional floating house of worship and multipurpose community hub dubbed Genesis. The barge-church, envisioned as a bobbing, buoyant gathering place for the St Columba East London community, is a project of the London Diocese.
As elaborated in a press statement, Genesis was conceived as “a modern-day mission, developing links with growing communities living around the canal in East London over the next 25 years.” The pastel-hued barge will stay moored in its current location next to Here East (a 2012 Summer Olympics leftover that previously served as the media center for the games) along the Lee Navigation, a canalized river, for the next three-to-five years before relocating elsewhere near other East London areas undergoing large-scale regeneration schemes so that it can serve residents seeking an outlet for fellowship, faith, or community activism. Not simply a place of solemn contemplation, the highly adaptable interior of the vessel can be reconfigured to accommodate a diverse range of programming ranging from pilates classes to supper clubs to interfaith celebrations according to the statement. The Genesis can also be rented for private hire and be used by local school groups for secular functions.
In its current location, Genesis will serve the parishes of St Paul Old Ford and St Mary of Eton before lifting anchor so that it can “reach new communities and bridge shifting parishes in the areas of the Diocese of London undergoing urban growth or change.”
“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,” said Murray Kerr, founder of Denizen Works, in a statement. “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.”
The vessel’s most conspicuous design feature, its hydraulic ram-powered roof, was inspired by both VW camper cans and organ bellows. When fully expanded, the kinetic roof, fabricated from translucent sailcloth and lined with LED lights, serves as a glowing beacon “designed to capture attention and attract footfall to the mission.” With just a push of the button, the accordion-style canopy can be made flat when deemed necessary like when passing under low bridges along the canal.
Inside, the barge’s interiors are welcoming and modern but also, appropriately, on the spartan side to both allow for greater versatility and to reflect the pietistic nature of the space. The floors are green linoleum while plywood walls line the interior, complemented by bespoke plywood stools and folding tables designed by local studio PLYCO that can be broken out for different functions. The bow of Genesis is home to the 60-person capacity (when stationary) assembly hall its perimeter lined with built-in Valchromat benches and “marine-style bulkhead lights.” The all-important altar, designed by Denizen Works, is reminiscent of a boat’s prow and can be folded away and stored when not in use. At the rear of the vessel is a kitchen, a fully accessible, restroom, and an office. A zigzag sail stitch-inspired motif can be throughout Genesis including on its window jalousies, kitchen tiling, and furnishings.
Genesis will be served by Reverend Dave Pilkington who has noted that while the project is complete and ready to serve the community “current circumstances require that we take the necessary steps to manage risk and protect people before opening our doors. We will undertake this with the careful consideration it requires.”