As Sydney’s population continues to grow, with a projected doubling in the next 30 years, the pressure is on for new housing and communities to build either up or out. Oran Park Town, a new community 60km south west of Sydney, is the product of the latter strategy, and replaces what used to be dairy farms and a car race track with schools, retail, and community and recreational facilities to support 25,000 residents.

Unlike some new communities, where planning restrictions have pushed places of worship from central neighbourhoods to the fringes, Oran Park Town has welcomed a new church into its heart. In an environment that encourages car use, the NewLife Anglican Church is accessible by foot or bicycles, and sits “right among the people”.

“The brief was to create a first stage 220-seat contemporary worship space with associated meeting and service spaces connecting to an open, generous foyer,” says architects NBRS+Partners’ Design Director, Andrew Duffin.

“It required the design to establish an identifiable church set within a new suburban context. The worship centre needed to be expandable for future growth with the potential for a hall, administration facilities and proportional car parking.”

One of the challenges NBRS faced was creating a connected identity between a new community and a new church. For Duffin, that meant designing a church forecourt that would be unfenced and extended to the curb line to create a sense of local ownership. Set in this forecourt is a 20m high glass tower, whose many colours – made of Linox’s Vanceva coloured glass – symbolise the unification of the mix of people in Oran Park Town.

“[The tower] is a separate form set apart from the church and floats off the ground, generating a sense of openness and connection with neighbourhood space,” Duffin describes. “It marks an identity for the community, and is a contemporary interpretation of a centuries-old campanile set in a village court.”

The Glass Tower’s stainless steel patch fittings are also from Linox, while the structural steel is coated in International Paints’ Interfine 878 protective paint.

If the dynamic glass tower is the immediate show-stopper, then the church’s façade is its subtler sister, with nuanced layers of meaning. Here, the juxtaposition of materials and expression of structure provide relief and articulation to the building’s profile, while details allow the play of light and shadows to bring additional depth to the composition. The use of the solid and transparent further defines the public and private layers to the design.

The glazing on the façade is AWS Elevate series natural anodized (AWS Elevate) with Viridian Comfort Plus Grey glazing, while the curved roof soffit is made of Hoop Pine plywood from Supawood.

An honest palette, comprising off-form concrete, laser-cut corten steel, timber panelling and textured masonry render, has been chosen so that the building gracefully patinas over time without requiring significant ongoing maintenance.

Within the building, the design is led by a desire to set a “transparent tone for ecclesiastical worship centres”. Instead of conforming to the more traditional small portico arrival hall, an open forecourt transition has been created for a more welcoming environment that maintains a strong sense of connectedness with the surrounding township.

The design takes full advantage of the north-facing aspect, opening the forecourt and arrival to the north. “Along with sun shading and weather protection, the building responds appropriately to the idea of shelter,” says Duffin.

The Foyer and Auditorium are ruled by natural light with appropriate glare control, which goes against the current trend of blacked out auditorium spaces. Large glazed sliding panels forge visual and physical links to the outside.

“The orientation of the worship space to the platform is landscape format rather than traditional portrait. The intention is to bring the congregation closer together, creating a greater connection to the worship leaders and set a greater sense of inclusiveness,” explains Duffin.

“The NBRS design for the NewLife Church is for the whole community, not just for its members. It tells an ancient story and evokes a civic pride and ownership.”

To accommodate for future growth, the final volume of the church space was completed in Stage One works, but the team inserted group meeting pods into the auditorium that are easily removed when expansion is needed.

NewLife Anglican Church officially opened on May 2, 2015.

Photography by Stuart Starr & Andrew Duffin