Dezeen Magazine

Exterior shot of church complex with Scottish countryside

Konishi Gaffney repurposes church into versatile community hub

Timber cladding features in this church in Edinburgh, which has been converted into a community centre by Scottish architecture firm Konishi Gaffney.

The Greyfriars Charteris Centre now contains a flexible workspace, community hub, events spaces and a non-denominational sanctuary.

Photograph showing the exterior of the building complex with link building in centre
The new link building unifies the complex of early 20th century buildings

The church was used a place of worship from its opening in 1912 until 2013, reopening in 2016 as the Greyfriars Charteris Centre. With its change of use came the need for an overhaul of its circulation and accessibility, as well as a clear point of entry.

Konishi Gaffney was challenged with transforming the perception of the church from a closed-off, imposing historic building to an inclusive space to be used by all members of the surrounding area's diverse community.

Photograph showing slim timber link building between two stone buildings
The new entryway provides a definite point of access for users

The studio's design aims to physically and aesthetically unify the collection of buildings that had been gradually acquired over time while being sensitive to the historic fabric of the buildings.

The structure was opened up at street level by extending the length of the existing lancet windows, allowing passers-by to see the activities going on inside and encourage participation.

Photograph showing slim timber link building between two stone buildings
The use of terrazzo and timber fins provides contrast to existing stone buildings

A rational entryway was created by slotting a timber link building between the church and the neighbouring office building.

This is distinguished from the original stone buildings by its facade, which features terrazzo slabs on the ground floor level as a contemporary reference to the rusticated bases of the city's Georgian buildings.

Photograph of carved terrazzo detail outside glazed entrance door
The geometric motif is visible throughout the interior

Relief patterns provide further texture to the white terrazzo and were designed in collaboration with artist Steven Blench of local plastering company Chalk Plaster.

Higher up the frontage, overlaid grids of timber fins add a linear dimension to the terrazzo and, on the second floor, contain a floor-to-ceiling window.

Photograph showing entrance area, stairs to ground floor and main hall access area
The atrium creates circulation between all areas

The triple-height, top-lit atrium contains reception and lobby areas and houses a lift for easy access to all areas of the complex.

An open-plan co-working area, punctuated by structural columns, and two screened-off meeting rooms occupy the lower floor.

A wide staggered staircase with integrated seating allows users to sit and collaborate and connects the lower floor co-working areas with the lobby, as well as providing access to the main church hall above.

The former nave acts as a function room, facilitated by its open floor and unobstructed high ceiling. Original features including ceiling details, crucifix and masonry work remain.

Photograph showing entrance area, stairs to ground floor and main hall access area
A wide staircase facilitates easy movement between floors

A six-metre-tall screen inserted into an existing pointed arch sections off the main hall from the 'all faiths and none' contemplation area above the stairway, which is lit by a large pointed arch window at the end of the space.

The Greyfriars Charteris Centre's interior is unified by the use of American maple and birch plywood joinery combined with white plaster.

Photograph showing main church hall with arched window and vaulted ceiling
The original church hall is lit by natural and energy saving lighting

This neutral palette ties in with features of the existing structure, such as the main hall's vaulted ceiling, which was stripped back to its original pine colour from a dark mahogany stain using a soda blasting technique.

The materials were chosen to keep the interior light and easy to navigate while tying in the new subdivided areas with the original building. Double glazing and new interior lighting was added throughout.

Photograph showing joinery details
Bespoke joinery is harmonious with historic features

Improvements were also made to the building's environmental performance, with insulation fitted throughout as well as the installation of a more efficient heating system, double glazing, low-energy LED lights and solar panels.

Other church conversions featured on Dezeen include a church in Los Angeles that was transformed into an events and co-working space by by Francesca de la Fuente and Working Holiday Studio, and a restaurant in London that sits inside a former church by Michaelis Boyd.

The photography is by Nanne Springer.

Project credits:

Client: Greyfriars Charteris Centre
Architect: Konishi Gaffney Architects: Kieran Gaffney, Adam Williams, Ivan Fraile-Gisbert, Dana Cherepkova and Dee Farrell
Structural engineer: Entuitive / Forshaw Gauld
M&E: Irons Foulner Consulting Engineers
QS: Thomson Gray
Other design consultants: Francis Milloy (lighting design), Chalk Plaster (sculptural collaboration) and Old School Fabrications (joinery)
Main contractor: SJS Property Services
Specialist subcontractors: Gray & Dick (glazing), Cambridge Architectural Precast (cladding) and Hall & Tawse (windows and doors)

More images and plans

Sectional view of building
Lower ground floor plan
Ground floor plan
First floor plan
Second floor plan
Photograph showing someone walking down stairway
Photograph showing stairway detail
Photograph showing screen sectioning off sanctuary area
Photograph showing entrance area, stairs to ground floor and main hall access area
Photograph showing detail of lower ground floor meeting rooms with yellow columns
Photograph showing joinery details in link building
Photograph showing joinery seating detail in sanctuary area