Thursday, 11 July 2013

George Square Chapel

It is often quite hard not to be overly cynical about the catholic church and their mountains of cash but a few seconds on the grounds of this chapel and its clear you are in a peaceful place. Simpson & Brown Architects have managed to create a damn fine building on a world heritage site working for the church. Inside is a little like some of Liam McCormick's work in Ireland or even some of Tadao Ando's work (with less iconography) in how delicately it considers light. I will admit I have only visited twice and both times in fine weather so it would be interesting to see how well it works on a cold dark Tuesday in winter. At the moment it is singing. Its located here, on Edinburgh's George Square but its a lot more fun to find from Meadows walk. Its sharp edged roof peeks just above the wall adjacent to the walkway and George Sq. Lane. There is a rear entrance here through the gardens that seems to be open late into the evenings. The garden itself feels like it grew up around the church. Testament to the structure's contextual sensibilities. Its really such a tiny site but the chapel feels grand inside. The roof appears to float thanks to some very clever detailing.

The north facing wall, forged from Hazeldean sandstone, never touches the curved oak roof. Instead, a barely visible sliver of glass keeps things water tight. The roof itself is supported by a beautiful series of pre-weathered corten steel tree like beams Their organic shape and earthy finish help them melt into the substantial old trees at the end of the garden. In fact it is this garden, that serves as a backdrop to the alter and for a moment you could be anywhere.


But we are in the city centre and alas the church needs a lobby and secure entrance and this is the only real place it felt a bit forced. There is, I think, scope to open a large sliding door once inside the lobby that would probably make it feel more welcoming. The architect has obviously tried hard to fit it into the overall design with a very generous use of oak but it is essentially a glass box and the air feels stale. A far cry from the cool air once inside that radiates from the stone and fades into the private quarters to the rear. A small gripe in what is easily the coolest new build I have seen in the city in years. Go visit!

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