In the London borough of West Ealing, the architecture of the International Presbyterian Church’s new home begins with a simple yet profound gesture: a triple-height, brick masonry portico that blurs the boundary between the church and the street, Drayton Green. Deftly inserted into a residential area by local design firm Piercy&Company, the 8,800-square-foot building pairs a pleated roofline, inspired by both the surrounding residences and the soaring vaults of European basilicas, with faceted ceiling planes inside.
The church’s dramatic entryway—an abstracted spire—gives visitors a clear view down a light-filled corridor to its main meeting hall, a cathedral-like volume that seats 250 people and similarly draws eyes up to its dynamic timber-panel ceiling. Hundreds of physical models helped explore the roof’s scale and relationship to a historic 1913 chapel, around which the church wraps. “The number of 3D printers that we have seems to get greater by the day,” says Piercy&Company director Pete Jennings, “but still a decent chunk of what we do is manual laser-cutting.”
The firm specified CLT for its structural performance as well as its ability to be left exposed as an interior finish. Six inches thick, the ceiling panels are supported by a series of angled wide-flange beams that span the main meeting space and at the valleys of the roof folds. The prefabricated timber panels are notched to nest against the beam’s web and bottom flange and secured with steel bolts. At panel joints, where the steel beam flange would have been exposed, 3/4-inch-thick spruce boards the length of the CLT panels close the gap, hiding the steel structure. The spruce boards are also recessed into exposed surface of the CLT panels, creating a flush finish. Where the timber panels meet to form the roof’s ridgeline, they are joined with a half-lap joint and screwed together.
The CLT ceiling panels are topped with a Sika-Trocal vapor control membrane, between 2 inches and 8 inches of insulation, and a single-ply-rubber roof membrane. A standing-seam metal roof covers the entire assembly.
In the brick awning of the portico, the roof’s steel frame supports a timber subframe and plywood sheets, to which pre-assembled panels of half-brick veneers are fixed using a Safe-Secure stainless steel reinforced cladding system that mechanically secures the bricks through kerfs cut into the brick’s top and bottom edges.
Prior to installation, the CLT panels, prefabricated and installed by London-based supplier KLH UK, were treated with a tinted fire retardant. Jennings says the design team had hoped that the finish would “have enough of a milkiness to … pare back the yellowness of the timber. But when [the panels were] in situ, it still had too much of an industrial feel to it.” To lighten the wood, the designers specified a whitewash coating that was spray-applied to the CLT and spruce infill panels, which, though successful, “was not an ideal way to do it,” Jennings says. During the spray application, he says, the interior of the church resembled a foggy London morning.
Construction on the church addition began in September 2017 and was completed in November 2018. Piercy&Company has continued working with the congregation, designing and fabricating a communion table, lectern, and baptismal font. More importantly, Jennings says, “we were conscious that we were delivering the best possible [project] that felt like a home, but that could be furnished and embellished as [the clients] grew into the space.”