The Christian community has worshipped at St Mary Redcliffe for over 800 years. The Gothic church, of international importance, is located in Bristol and, having won the international design competition, Purcell is delighted to be assisting St Mary Redcliffe in the creation of new welcome facilities to ensure that the building remains the physical, spiritual and social heart of its community.
Declared by Elizabeth I in 1574 to be ‘The Fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England’, St Mary Redcliffe now stands isolated, and severed from its congregation, due to a series of damaging post-war planning decisions. Purcell’s approach has undone this damage, utilising research to understand and reinterpret the church’s lost historic context through the new buildings on the site.
The new welcome building therefore takes its form from the historic boundary of the medieval churchyard, reinstating the historic proximity to the church, whilst remaining highly transparent to provide views from the street to the church’s north elevation beyond. This transparency is tempered, where necessary, by the use of a rich, ceramic façade, its fractal geometries an abstraction of the medieval vaults and bosses that characterise the church interior.
Within the welcome building, an exhibition space with spectacular views to the north porch and spire, provides a fitting location for the display and interpretation of the – currently largely unseen – collection of church treasures, enabling St Mary Redcliffe to reveal and contextualise its links to the New World and Bristol’s maritime past.
Elsewhere, within the south churchyard, a delicate structure, woven between the existing trees, provides a celebratory events space that frames a new community square. Upon this, a new community building is placed, representing the physical manifestation of St Mary Redcliffe’s outreach, providing a night shelter for the homeless, workshops and office spaces to assist social enablement, and a series of communal spaces to provide a contemporary friary for Faithspace, the site’s current occupiers.
Linked by both a shared materiality and a covered route that, for the first time in the church’s history, completes the mediaeval processional way, the three buildings create an urban ‘stitch’ to repair Redcliffe’s context and connect the diverse communities to each side of the church. Indeed, via a red concrete base that references the ‘red cliff’ from which the area takes its name, and the glazed ceramic lanterns of its upper volumes, the scheme consciously reinforces the importance of both history and place, symbolising the hope, ambition and energy of the Redcliffe Community.