A Brief Visit to Southampton

I was delighted to have been asked back as one of four judges for next year’s Stevens Competition for Architectural Glass. The new brief for the competition has just been announced and it is a very exciting commission. St Mary’s Church in Southampton is commissioning a glass artist to design a stained glass window to commemorate the crew of the Titanic. Southampton sustained the greatest loss of life as virtually the entire crew of 1500 was drawn from the city. St Mary’s, its mother church, is closely connected with the ship which sailed from Dock Gate 4 close by and it was chosen as the venue for Southampton’s first memorial service after the disaster.

In early November I jumped on the train to meet the other judges at Southampton. We were driven from the station past the stadium of Southampton football club which has the nickname ‘the Saints’ as it originated from the church choir team. Pulling up in front of the church, we could see the neo-gothic architecture of the Victorian exterior which survived the blitz. 

The building was gutted except for the baptistery, belfry and vestry and all the windows other than those in the baptistry were destroyed. The present church was reconstructed in the 1950s with a spartan neo-Cistercian interior and attractive stained glass windows which were modern interpretation of what had gone before.

I particularly liked the window in the Seamen’s Chapel with its references to ships sailing beneath a rainbow and the drapery of a cloak emblazoned with stars like the unfurling firmament. Walking further round to look at the only original windows, I noticed the ceiling of the baptistery was also painted with gold stars on blue. My natural inclination – despite my role as a judge not an entrant – was to start coming up with ideas for the new window (old habits die hard!) and I immediately saw the potential link to an idea posited in the brief that 550 stars could be included in the design for the new window to represent the number of crew who died in the disaster. 

The new window panel will be built into the north aisle and the brief requires the design to incorporate a quotation from the Old Testament book Song of Songs – ‘Many Waters Cannot Quench Love’ – as well as the emblem of the White Star Line, the company which owned the ship. The site and the brief offer a rich source of ideas for what should be a very exciting commission.  

Read the competition brief here


An i-Lumen-ating experience

I had an odd experience last Friday. I had spent the day at a Business Club run by The Design Trust in a lovely sunny conference centre in Bloomsbury. We had been in the main meeting room all morning, then served lunch in the garden courtyard and attended a seminar in another side room, with the gentle sounds of the general public in the cafe at the front of the building.

Walking back towards the exit at the end of the day, I noticed some small stained glass windows dotted down the corridor. “That’s odd!” I thought… the stained glass was backwards, so I was looking at it the wrong way from the corridor, which meant that the front view was on the other side of the wall. As I followed the corridor down to investigate what was on the other side I was envisioning another meeting space. And then I turned the corner to discover that the cafe was in fact just the front end of a chapel! A chapel within a contemporary conference building? Surprising.

On speaking to the cafe manager, the penny dropped. Lumen was in fact a Church which had been redesigned in 2009 with dwindling congregation numbers in mind and thus rebuilt with the religious space being only one relatively small part of a larger multiple use centre.

Quite apart from being a beautifully designed space, it struck me that if I could spend a day in the building without actually realising it was a church, then the Lumen brand offers a challenging model for religious architecture in the 21st century.


Praise Be!

StNicholas Font

I got the tip off that my work had briefly featured in Songs of Praise. This episode, Phoenix from the Ashes, partly focused on St Nicholas Church in Radford Semele which was rebuilt after being almost razed to the ground in an arson attack. The programme makers interviewed Emma Blount who made the beautiful leaded glass windows, but there was some brief footage of the glass font bowl that I made.

The section of the programme about St Nicholas Church starts from 6:30 and my glass appears briefly at 8:12 and 8:45