Monday, April 4, 2011

Darlinghurst: Churches: First Church of Christ, Scientist

Darlinghurst is set to be home to a new mansion after a development application was lodged last month to transform the ''First Church of Christ, Science'' building on Liverpool Street into a private residence.
Merchant banker Mark Howard Carnegie purchased the building from the Christian Scientists in June last year for a whopping $8.75 million and has submitted an innovative proposal to the City of Sydney council to turn the church and its massive auditorium into a six-bedroom house using a unique ''pod'' design.
I have to say it is a pretty impressive proposal and a very clever way to convert a 1927 heritage church into a modern home. 
The Inter-war Beaux Arts-style exterior and ''highly significant internal architectural composition'' would be retained and a dwelling ''pod'' would sit ''lightly within the shell of the former church auditorium'', according to the development application.

The pod would include a ''kitchen module'', with a kitchen, pantry, dining room, laundry; a ''guest module'' with two bedrooms accommodating three bunk beds and a guest bath; as well as a living room, three more bedrooms and a master bedroom with ensuite bathroom and dressing room, which would sit above the kitchen module.
I also like the sound of an indoor bamboo garden, which would be planted in shallow, waterproof containers at the southern end of the auditorium.
''The proposal will require removal and storage on site of all but three or four existing rows of seating in the auditorium and will otherwise be essentially freestanding,'' the application says.
Most amazing of all, is that the entire pod will be able to be removed and recycled if the building is ever converted back into a church or auditorium.
''The challenge for the project is not only to be respectful and subservient to the grandeur and eloquence of the original space but also to ensure that all is done in a manner that is fully reversible,'' the application says.
''The new structure will not touch any of the existing fabric other than bearing on the existing sloping auditorium floor.
''It is intended that the majority of work to construct this new insertion will occur off-site, both to achieve time-savings but also to limit potential risk of damage to the existing building.''
The church is also home to a large, Josiah Eustace Dodd-designed, orchestral-style organ that is considered by the Organ Historical Trust of Australia to be one of the most important historic organs from the post World War 1 period in NSW.
''As with the rest of the building fabric (this organ) is to remain untouched, however it is proposed to retain three pews within the space to enable occasional private performances to be held for the groups who have shown particular interest in this instrument and its capabilities.''
Well, isn't that bloody marvellous.
The proposed development for the 2078sqm site is estimated to cost $1.7 million. 
The architect behind this unique concept is Simon Swaney, from Darlinghurst-based Bates Smart, and I highly suggest you read the fascinating proposal - that includes a 63-page conservation management plan and 26-page heritage impact statement by Graham Brooks and Associates - on the council's website here, which also covers the history of this grand building.

But if you don't have time to read all that, let me provide you with a potted summary.
The site, on the corner of Liverpool and Forbes Street was within the original 1800s Edward Riley estate - inherited by Thomas Burdekin - and remained undeveloped until the 1920s. 
During the early part of the 20th Century the site was used by the Burlington Picture Show and hosted political rallies, farewell nights and other events, which were held in a large tent from 1909 to about 1915. 
In 1923, when the site was owned by James Alison and Alexander Hay, it was subdivided and an area of ''one rood, two-and-a-half perches'' was sold to the Christian Science Church.

The religion was founded by American Mary Baker Eddy (above), who became interested in ''healing ministry'', following a childhood bout of illness which was initially cured by a colourfully named faith healer, Phineas Quimby, from the Science of Christ ministry. 
Eddy established her church in Boston in 1875 and by her death in 1910, the church had spread to the majority of English-speaking countries, including Australia. At its peak in the 1930s the Christian Scientists had 3000 churches worldwide. 
In 1898 a few copies of Eddy's Science and Health were in circulation in Sydney and the appropriately named, William Wright Virtue, began hosting church meetings in his home with a handful of people. 
The meetings later moved to a house at 15 Harrow Road, Stanmore, in the inner west, but when numbers increased to about 36 people, the group took over a space in the Queen Victoria Market Building (now the QVB) in the Sydney CBD. 
The church first moved to Darlinghurst in 1916, to a custom built building on Riley Street (since demolished).
''The mother church congregation quickly outgrew the Riley Street accommodation and by 1923 planning was in hand for a much bigger building to house the members,'' according to the DA.
''The site on the corner of Forbes and Liverpool streets was purchased for 9000 Pounds and the architect firm Peddle Thorpe and Walker engaged to design the building.''

The $30,000 development, which included the Sunday School, foyer, pipe organ and furnishings, was built by the Hutcherson Bros and the church officially opened in July 1927.
During construction work, on March 9, 1927, the building was the subject of a lengthy article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which predicted it would be a ''worthy addition to the better type of Sydney's monumental architecture''.

The architect, Samuel George Thorpe, (who later designed Sydney's first skyscraper, the 1962 AMP building at Circular Quay), was believed to be a member of the Christian Science Church.
Thorpe based his design for the Darlinghurst church on the CSC's ''bank-style'' buildings in the United States, of which there were so many in the classical revival-style, they were soon dubbed, ''The Christian Science Church Building Movement.''
''It identifies a certain self-consciousness about the vision of the church, an effort to be perceived publicly as prominent, legitimate, successful and literally profitable to the worshiper, all this making the religious aims of Christian Scientists appear rather superficial,'' the DA says.
''The principal characteristics of building are monumentality and a consequence largeness of scale, symmetry, a thorough consistent application of classical motifs and the use of up to date structural techniques permitting impressive spacial volumes.''
All features of the Darlinghurst church.
The building has changed very little since then. The only minor alterations have included the addition of carriage lights on the outside walls, which were purchased from the old Sun Herald building in the late 1950s. A new entrance door to the reading room on Forbes Street was also added in 1985.

I'm bizarrely excited about the new plans for this site and I hope one day - perhaps posing as an organ aficionado - I can take a look at the pod interior.
I really want to have a peek inside the church before the development begins too. And wouldn't it be great to photograph the final service at the church after 84 years of operation?

The exhibition period for the development application closes on April 19.

First Church of Christ, Scientist
262 Liverpool Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010


Anonymous said...

when can i see the proposed pod design on your blog, blogger tingle?

Violet Tingle said...

There's a pdf of the ground level floor plan here:

And a pdf of the upper level here:

I couldn't find any artists's illustrations.
What I don't understand is why they need so many bunk beds - makes it look like some kind of children's camp.

Anonymous said...

Sad day - materialism rules - and what a lot of happiness it has brought to the community !!!

Anonymous said...

I think photographing the final service would be pretty crass and disrespectful considering the love for everyone this religion promotes and its a sad day for the community. Unfortunately, like most religions materialism, has become the 'God' and just look what amazing happiness, joy and satisfaction that has brought!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

All those beds, pool table and lounge areas, commercial fitout and furnishings....What a strange home! O well the big round spa bath looks like fun!

Arnold. said...

I remember in the early '80s (1983) there used to be about a couple dozen working girls on the footpath there. Some of them were real lookers too. Flaunting themselves cheekily in their leg warmers and stilettos.

Unknown said...

I used to go to Sunday school there in the mid 70s.
I lived in Hillsdale on a street full of blocks of flats. Dozens of kids from mostly migrant families lived on this street and every Sunday morning a well dressed old boy would drive up the street in his old Falcon and pick up as many kids as he could and take us to Darlinghurst.
The pictures in this article are just how I remember the interior.
There would be hymns sung first and I can clearly hear that organ playing.
Then there were bible lessons and kids from different areas would sit at their own tables with their own teacher.
Sometimes a couple of us would use the bathroom and sneak off to explore the the building. There were narrow corridors on the upper level of the perimeter and you could see down into the auditorium.
Then afterwards we were all taken on an excursion. Taronga Zoo via ferry. Or Waratah national park. Or Manly harbourside beach. Lunch included!
And then delivered home safely by days end.
For a bunch of poor kids this was the highlight of our week and we had a lot of fun aswell as learning good behaviour and thankfulness.
They were very good to us.

Thank you for the memories.