Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Built in the mid-1970s under the direction of Derek Walker, Chief Architect to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, the design of Our Lady of Lourdes is an interesting reinterpretation for ecclesiastical purposes of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. It contains a notable collection of ceramic furnishings by Norman and Anna Adams.
Between 1967 and 1992 the Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC) created the largest and most ambitious of the post-war new towns. The principal planning consultants were Llewellyn Davis and the first Chief Architect (from 1970) was Derek Walker. The architectural inspiration for the early development of the new town was firmly modernist, with formal planning in a landscaped setting and strict zoning. There was a central business and retail district, with housing concentrated in separate self-contained residential districts, of which Coffee Hall was one. Architects attracted to work in the new town included Gillespie Kidd and Coia, Ralph Erskine, Jeremy Dixon and Norman Foster. In 1977 Richard MacCormac built a scheme at Coffee Hall, a residential grid square development built during the 1970s and early 80s.
The parish of our Lady of Lourdes was established in 1974 and Fr Frank Duane, formerly at Billing, was appointed first parish priest. He rented a house in Netherfield, at which Mass was said pending the building of a church. Work started on the construction of the present church in April 1975, and was completed by May 1976. The job architect was Joy Rowan, overseen by MKDC architects Peter Barker and Susan Barker under the general direction of the Chief Architect Derek Walker (who retired as Chief Architect to MKDC in 1976). The main contractor was J.M. Hill and Sons of Ampthill. Initially the priest’s accommodation was in the upper level of the church. An attached presbytery was built in 2001.
The external design of Our Lady of Lourdes is essentially a reworking of Le Corbusier’s 1931 Villa Savoye at Poissy. Shared characteristics include the first floor podium with long horizontal glazing, carried on piloti, behind which a recessed and curved glass curtain wall contains the ground floor accommodation. Unlike at the Villa Savoye, which was built as a domestic weekend retreat, the main space of the church is open to the full height, with first floor accommodation (meeting rooms etc) arranged around an internal court, also carried on polished concrete pilotis, with spiral joints. Oversailing the main space is a light steel roof structure, raised to provide a continuous clerestory around the perimeter (the inspiration for this is perhaps Anthony Jaggard’s church at Wool, Dorset, completed in 1971, qv). The sanctuary is located beneath the first floor on the east side of the court, on a raised step. Above it a crucifix with figures of Our Lady and St John (from a convent in Kettering, according to Fr Williams) is placed on a darker panel fixed to the gallery front.
The church is notable for its collection of sculpted glazed stoneware by Norman Adams RA (1927-2005) and his wife Anna. Norman Adams’ work includes the Stations of the Cross, which as well as the conventional fourteen Stations includes a fifteenth, representing the Resurrection, a large panel set into the front of the altar (photo above). He also designed the ceramic panels on the lectern and tabernacle pedestal. The doors to the tabernacle itself are by Anna Adams, as is the ceramic panel on the front of the font, with its pastoral imagery of flowers and birds. In the lobby area is a large oil painting by Norman Adams depicting the vision of St Bernadette. A fuller description of these furnishings is given on the parish website.
The original seating consisted of wooden chairs, some of which survive in the font area. These have now mostly been replaced by blue upholstered chairs. Originally underfloor heating was provided below the ceramic tile floor, but this is no longer operative, and quartz ray heaters hang from the steel roof structure.
Amended by AHP 25.01.2021
Architect: Derek Walker (Milton Keynes Development Corporation)
Original Date: 1976
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed