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Cas Bradbeer, Heritage Pioneer Volunteer

‘Diverse’, ‘warm’ and ‘tranquil’. These were the words that came to mind as I wandered through Congregation.

In the newly restored undercroft, twenty three innovative works of sacred architecture built in Britain in the last decade were brought together for this thoughtfully displayed exhibition, curated by the Architecture Foundation and presented in collaboration with Grand Junction at St Mary Magdalene’s. Featuring the building as one of the exhibits, Congregation showed how religious communities have responded to their changing socioeconomic circumstances.

The exhibition made full use of the undercroft, which bustled with a wide array of objects. Congregation blended in perfectly with the reddish-brown colours of the bricks and tiles, through the use of smooth, curved plinths in warm, earthy tones.

Each building project was given an atmosphere of its own through the inclusion of objects with contextual importance to each community, such as a mounted sacred peacock feather, a catalogue of architectural plans, earth samples, and a to-scale stone ‘barrow niche’.

The atmospheres created were also enriched by the visible transition from architectural models, populated by miniature model people, to images of real people occupying buildings that now exist. The video installation was especially effective at enlivening the buildings, showcasing people recounting their personal and often emotional stories about these spaces.

As part of Congregation, a map created by students from the University of Westminster was mounted in Grand Junction’s entrance. It succinctly illustrated over 200 years of religious architecture through 26 sacred buildings in Westminster. The display also highlighted the religious diversity of the local population, connecting this to the variety of local religious buildings.

Overall, a great deal of light was shed on the themes of multiculturalism, socioeconomic change, secular integration, sustainability and tranquility. Arranged in five themes, Congregation explored several pressing issues facing society today from an architectural perspective.

During the exhibition, the Architecture Foundation hosted a one-day festival, headlined by Alain de Botton, and an evening of discussion between architectural historians, Sharman Kadish and Shahed Saleem, on the architectural and social history of the synagogue and mosque in Britain.

Find out more about Congregation here.