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Durban Buildings & Architecture


A church is a Christian religious institution, and while the term refers to the assembly of the faithful who could convene anywhere, the general understanding of ‘church’ is a building used for religious activities, particularly worship.

The first buildings used for Christian worship were disused basilicas in ancient Rome. These buildings consisted of a central nave, with aisles on each side separated by an arcade or colonnade and, typically, terminating in a semi-circular apse. As the basilicas were originally designed as courts of justice, windows were set along the aisles and by clerestory above the arcade or colonnade in order to illuminate the nave, the typical basilican cross-section.

When dedicated buildings were designed for worship, plans in the shape of a cross were deemed appropriate because of the symbolism, with the nave occupying the long arm, transepts to the short arms and the altar in the apse. This longitudinal composition was usually accented with a belfry or bell tower, placed either on the axis or on the side. An alternative was a centralised plan (as the circle represented eternity), with the octagon as a favourite variation. The basilican cross-section was applied to both plan types, not least because of the association with the church bringing light into the world, while Romanesque and Gothic were the preferred styles due to their structural honesty.

Much like shops, churches follow people. Wherever there is a settlement of people, a spiritual need is soon likely to surface, and when the building of a church is considered, it is incumbent upon the architects, as is the case with any design, to consider the constraints of the local climate and material availability. However, besides worship, there is also a need for the design of a space for fellowship and, as the most important building of the congregation, artists are engaged in the elaborations wherever possible.

In the modern era, architects aimed to design spaces for worship as auditoria yet with numinous synthesis, a mysterious power that suggests the presence of a spirit or god. Buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Basil Spence, Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn provided the examples for emulation.

Researcher: Prof. Walter Peters

Photographer(s): Roger Jardine

Berea Congregational Church

Cnr Musgrave And King Dinizulu Rds., Architects Collaborative, 2003.

Corrugated Iron Church

332 Sarnia Rd, Sea View, c 1880.

Holy Trinity

210 Musgrave Rd., Berea, Woodrow & Collingwood Architects, 1958.

St Catherine’s

442 Main Rd, Escombe, O’Neill & Giraud, 1968.

St Francis Xavier

21 Sormany Rd, Bluff, Hallen Theron & Partners, 1978.

St Mary’s

8 Lilian Ngoyi Rd, Baker & Fleming, 1911-14.

St Olav’s

214 St Thomas’ Rd, Hallen & Dibb, 1967.

Victory Faith Centre

90 Seventh Ave, Ashley, Pinetown, Myles, Pugh, Sherlock, Murray, 1996, Additions 2004.

Emmanuel Cathedral

48 Cathedral Rd, Street-Wilson & Paton, 1902-04.

Mariannhill Mission Station

10 Monastery Rd, Mariannhill, 1882-1919.