Considerations to make for architectural projects on Ecclesiastical buildings


There are over 16,000 churches in the UK, some of which were originally built many centuries ago. In fact, the oldest church still in use in the UK was built prior to 597AD. This means a few things for ecclesiastical buildings. For starters, they are for the community. Religious and cultural hubs, which many people rely on every day. Secondly, they are seen as national monuments and are therefore protected as some of the most important historic buildings across England and Wales. Nearly 6,000 of our 16,000 churches are listed as Grade I or Grade II. Finally, due to their age, they very often need structural repairs, improvements and extensions to make them suitable for today’s standards. 

These realities combine to make architectural projects a tough task. Anyone involved in this process will need to take into consideration many different things. From the needs of those visiting the church to maintaining the protection of parts of the church with particular religious importance. It is vital that anyone that works on one of these projects has the expertise required to ensure there are no hiccups. 

Permission 

There are a lot of regulations around what work can be completed on historical buildings and places of worship. You can’t start work on a project without first gaining permission, therefore this is one of the very first things to consider. If you don’t have permission, the project simply isn’t feasible. To check what permissions you need, the easiest way is to check with your Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC), because they should know the most about your building. Alternatively, an experienced agency like Munday + Cramer can advise on which permissions you need, based on our vast industry knowledge. 

For example, the Planning Act contains The Ecclesiastical Exemption, which means that you do not need to apply for listed building consent or conservation area consent. Instead, for some works, you would have to apply for a faculty. Essentially, gaining permission from a chancellor, archdeacon, or someone more senior in the church. 

However, although you can get exemption from several usual regulations, there are still many that do apply. Planning permission, building regulations and health & safety, for example, are still important to follow. 

Make sure that you have considered all permissions required or you can face legal repercussions and disciplinary action, both from the church and the UK government. 

Writing Your Brief 

The first thing you should do when starting an architectural project for an ecclesiastical building is creating your brief. This is a document which details all of your requirements to ensure the architect can design an appropriate solution. The brief can be just that, brief. Usually this will just be one page with bullet points, covering everything important for the project. 

You should explain: 

  • What you really need – what is most important about the project? 
  • What activities you want to facilitate in the space. 
  • How many people you want to be able to accommodate in the space. 
  • Detail what you currently do with the space available and compare it with your vision of what you would do once work is complete. 
  • Any supporting documentation for your plans (Although, as we say, keep it brief for optimal results!) 

Once your architect has your brief, don’t be surprised if they challenge things that are included in the brief, or offer up compromises. This is in the job description for an architect. It is very much a creative dialogue, in which many parties have their input to ensure the best outcome. Once you have a refined brief, the architect can create a proposal, which will help in getting the required permissions for church building projects. 

Choosing an Architect for Ecclesiastical Buildings 

As we say, choosing who you work with on a project like this is crucial for success. You should be looking for an experienced ecclesiastical architect with the ability to manage the operation from many different angles. Obviously, you can also judge their work based on examples and case studies to make sure they are fit for your particular building. Feel free to ask for previous examples, references and if there are any similar projects you can visit to see their work first hand. 

Munday + Cramer, and the National Churches Trust, suggest that you should work with accredited organisations, such as ourselves. We are members of the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT), accredited by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). We also hold ISO certifications for quality management, so we hold ourselves to very high standards. 

However, it is also important that the practice you choose has great communication from the very beginning. This will mean they are invested in bringing your vision to life, understand the brief and provide expert guidance and advice throughout. Ecclesiastical architectural projects can take a long time from initiation to completion due to complex processes, so having a good working relationship with the practice is essential, even if only for your own sanity! 

Considerations for the project design 

As many of these buildings are historic and a large proportion are listed buildings, it can be particularly difficult to create a design and project plan that suits the building’s requirements.  

This part is mainly for the architects and project managers, but you will, of course, have the final say. You can also make sure that anyone working on this project with you is also keeping the following in mind. 

  • How can you maximise the use of space already available as a result of this project? 
  • How can your modern design fit with the old architecture of the building. For example, if arches are a prominent feature on the exterior of the building and you are creating an extension, can you replicate or mimic these designs with more up-to-date materials? 
  • Can you use the same or similar materials as the original building, so changes fit the building’s theme and character?  
  • Are you able to design changes in a way that any of the building can remain open for necessary use? 
  • As they are listed buildings, there may be extra complications for some designs. For example, there may be a tree included in the listing, or even small things, such as tap fixtures. Your design will have to take these into account as well. 
  • How will you keep track of what changes have been made? This is important on buildings such as these due to their historical significance. Historians and the general public will want a record of when amendments have been made to a building. 
  • Likewise, in carrying out this process, you will likely have a rare opportunity to reveal historic materials, such as those in the foundations, under floorboards, or stonework. You may discover something about the building or those that have used it in the past that was previously unknown. It is important to account for this in your plans as findings should be reported to local heritage foundations. 

Choosing a Design Team 

As part of this project, you are unlikely to only need an architect. Other services you may need to employ include: 

  • A principal designer for health and safety. 
  • A quantity surveyor to aid with the project finances. 
  • A services engineer to design the heating, lighting and electrical systems, as well as drainage and ventilation. 
  • A structural engineer to ensure the building is structurally sound… the list goes on. 

Munday + Cramer can provide all of these services in-house as part of our project offering. Having all of this work carried out by one company will help speed up processes, with immediate and effective communication. There is never any waiting around for different companies and having to manage your own timetables. On top of this, you will save a lot of time by not having to source disparate contractors in the first place. For example, you wouldn’t need to source a separate quantity surveyor, as we can manage the commercial element on your behalf. 

Contact Us 

With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Munday + Cramer are perfectly positioned to work on ecclesiastical buildings. We are a multi-disciplined agency and thus can oversee entire projects, from surveying, procurement and architectural design, managing everything right through to the end product. 

For more information on how the team here at Munday + Cramer can help in this process, or if you would like to find out more about our building surveying services, operating in Essex, London, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk and across the rest of the UK then get in touch! Contact Munday + Cramer today on 01245 326 200.