New church design - City Church Chelmsford - Allen Associates

New Church, Old Building – City Church Chelmsford

City Church Chelmsford is a church plant from Danbury Mission Church. Based on our previous work for Danbury, we were asked to prepare a feasibility study for a  new church in an existing locally listed warehouse and restaurant. Following this we completed the design to submit the planning application.

A new church community, a new church design


Having worked closely with Danbury Mission in the past, they knew that we would share their vision for the new church. ‘To share the life-changing good news about Jesus with people from every background and to make disciples who follow him through every stage of life’. Further, that we would understand how to design a building that would serve and support their vision.

So it was key for us to listen to the church. To understand what they required to help them make critical decisions about the acquiring the property.

  • Would the historic warehouse building be suitable for the church to meet and worship?
  • Could the church’s community activities fit in the existing restaurant space?
  • What would it cost to make these changes to the building?

Then, with the church, we imagined several options to transform the building from disuse, to being a hub of the growing community of Chelmsford. The brief included the following important points:

  • The main worship space needs to enable people to be active in praise and worship, in contemporary and traditional styles.
  • People need to see what is happening on the stage and to feel part of a body of people together.
  • All while being good neighbours to the residents of surrounding properties.
  • To have a worship space that can be all the above and also support community use and be visible from the other community spaces, like the Hudson’s café


City Church Chelmsford is a group of people committed to having a heart for God, one another and for Chelmsford. So bringing the Hudson Coffee branded café to Chelmsford is a crucial part of the project. The project is in the city centre next to the Aspyre and Wharf Road new residential developments. So by drawing on the practice’s strength in hospitality design we worked with the church to sketch up an initial design.

Simple design

A key challenge was to take all of these complex elements to create a church design that enables all the client needs and wants. But also within budget and achievable within the planning and property requirements.

Modern church design in a locally listed building

  • New church design - City Church Chelmsford - Allen Associates
    City Church Chelmsford. Proposed church entrance and café from the canal basin quay

Technical aspects of design and managing the process

To answer the questions regarding the feasibility of using these disused buildings a church, we brought together a team of specialist engineers and consultants. So we could focus on providing the right advice to support the church. Within Allen Associates; Ralph Allen, designer of Danbury Mission, led the team; David Spencer, our new Associate Architect worked on the plans, 3d design and the constraints of the very low ceiling.

The team drew on their technical skills and experience of, feasibility studies, ecclesiastical design, conversion projects, and heritage buildings.

We led the consultant team to analyse the design options against the constraints presented by the existing buildings and site. The summary of our conclusions are below:

  • A huge constraint was the height of the ceiling in the restaurant part of the existing building. As the ceiling had been lowered, previously, to convert the first floor of the building to residential use. After a detailed measured survey by the AA team and several sketch designs, we concluded that it would be feasible to accommodate all the key briefing requirements identified by the church. A key design principle was to maximise the ceiling height. So a service spine runs at high level through the middle of the unit from the plant room. Next to this spine, lower spaces like toilets and stores allow the services to feed the main spaces.
  • It is important to prevent noise generated within the building disturbing the occupants of the surrounding residential properties. So the acoustic engineer (Suono) advised what noise control measures would be required.
  • There is not the height to introduce suspended ceilings below the existing fire resistant ceiling. Thus the services engineer (Environmental Engineering Partnership) prepared initial designs for the ventilation of the main space and the distribution of services within the ancillary areas.
  • The structural engineer (AKS Ward) commented on the increased loading on the roof structure of the warehouse building. This ensured that the additional loads from plant and necessary to increase the acoustic performance of the roof could be accommodated.
  • The quantity surveyor (Synergy) prepared a very detailed cost estimate.

The feasibility study drew together the advice of the whole team. It concluded that, yes, this building would be a suitable base for City Church Chelmsford. But only if church accepted of the limitations of the low ceiling in the existing restaurant space.

Planning process

To support the church’s process in negotiating the purchase of the building, we continued to develop the preferred design option to enable a planning application. This drew on the expertise of the team with the addition of planning consultant, ET Planning.

AA created the application scheme, including the heritage strategy. This was to conserve specific elements of the existing building while changing its use to a worship space. We prepared the heritage statement for the planning submission. This provided the historical context to the project and assessed the impact on the heritage asset.

It was important in planning and urban design terms that the café provides activity on the canal basin quay. So we moved the café closer to the entrance and along the side of the building facing the basin.

We join the church in giving thanks that the scheme has achieved planning consent. Now we are looking forward to the next stages of the this exciting project.

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