St Paul’s Anglican Church

Name St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Client Anglican Church of South Africa
Location Jabavu, Soweto
Status Built, 1984

St Paul’s Church in Jabavu, White City, Soweto was built during the uprisings in South Africa in the mid-1980s. It was a place of congregation for, among others, those people engaged in the internal struggle for freedom in South Africa. It was also a place where the diplomatic staff and ambassadors from many countries could meet in Soweto, ostensibly for prayer but at the same time to make contact with those people involved in struggle activities. The church is circular in plan with a centralized altar. The quadrant behind the altar is used as an outside altar. On important religious occasions the service is conducted simultaneously in three different languages and the three quadrants of the church allow three priests to address three sections simultaneously in the three different languages. The existing community center opens out onto a large courtyard, which is enclosed on three sides. The church forms the fourth side and the outside altar allows services at Christmas and Easter to accommodate as many as three thousand people. The church provides a monumental scale to an important road intersection in Soweto. The drum of the church is 12 meters in height and the entrance is marked by four large circular columns which exaggerate the sense of monumentality. The church has two scales – an urban monumental scale, which corresponds to the entrance, and a smaller and softer scale, which opens out onto the courtyard behind. The interior is simply treated and the altar is the focus. Above the altar lies a large ring-beam and box gutter which ties the roof structure together. This space is 15 meters in height and is topped by a small aedicular “house,” which is in effect the roof-light. The circular form was chosen because it is not only cost-effective but allows for intimate contact between the priest and the congregation. The church can seat 1 000 and no one person is more than 12 meters from the altar. The church service is didactic in nature and the prominence and relationship of the altar to the congregation reinforces this – the altar is essentially a stage on which the service is acted out in a muscular and theatrical manner. The church was built by utilizing local labor under the supervision of the architect. The local priest, Father David Nkwe, purchased all materials and acted as project manager; in this way the church was built for a very low cost.