ADO Architects


Zwavelpoort Catholic Church | Pretoria




Client : St John Fisher Parish
Project Name : Zwavelpoort Catholic Church
Principal Agent & Architect : ADO
Quantity Surveyors : Prentice Shaw & Schiess
Structural & Civil Engineers : McCartan Shaw
Electrical Engineer : IngPlan
Mechanical Engineer : Dr Alec Johansen
Acoustic Engineer : Danny Liebenberg
Contractors : Engmak
Project value : R12m
Period : 2007

Design Report

The church of The Beatitudes is a Catholic Church and is located in Zwavelpoort Pretoria. It is a large Catholic Church located on the eastern side of Pretoria and has been built on agricultural land. It can accommodate up to 1500 people and has been sized in anticipation of the city's growth which is predominantly on the eastern side of Pretoria. The church was named after the Eight Beatitudes in the Bible, the number eight re-occurs often in the church among others the eight large windows on the eastern side of the church and the eight niches on the northern side of the church.

The footprint of the church was essentially that of a box with the altar placed on the long end of the church so as to ensure that the distances are a short as possible to the altar. The emphasis of the layout was to create a sense of community thereby ensuring a sense belonging among the congregation.
A lot of care was taken with respect to the placement of the church on the site. The site is still un-built and offers very beautiful views. The church was placed on the upper corner of the site and faces true north. This is due to the contours running from north to south and the exceptional view to the east. Very large windows to the east open the church up and incorporate the view in the church.

Since the brief was to build a large church the philosophy of aesthetics changed somewhat to what one may expect with respect to a smaller church. The large foot print resulted in structural constraints and at the same time the finances were also limited. As a result rather than to embellish the church the design philosophy was to use all materials honestly in their original form and use each material to reflect its own aesthetic appeal. The walls were predominantly face brick and were built as bulky members to reflect the piers of the Romanesque Era. Windows are kept large and clear to allow light in and provide contact with the beautiful view. Floors were finished with one large format dark tile, a few feature walls were finished with dry-stack rock cladding. The roof structure is of tubular steel, steel was the most cost effective material to span over this distance. The steel structure was kept exposed to save on costs and to be true to the philosophy of using each material in an aesthetic way. The weight of the roofing material was kept to the absolute minimum enabling the use of very small steel members, thereby ensuring a light aesthetic. Ceiling boards are supported between custom made powder coated steel top hat sections. The boards consist of a combination of acoustic Prolith wood fibre boards and Sonowool insulation above the boards, in this way the ceiling fulfilled the acoustic as well as insulation requirements of the roof.

The church was designed to be a sustainable low energy building. The most notable feature being that it has no air-conditioning or mechanical ventilation. The shape of the building and the curved steel roof rising to the north allows the air to circulate by means of natural convection. On a warm day fire louvers on the northern side below the large roof overhangs get opened mechanically with cables. Air gets drawn through the entrance doors and specially sized windows to ensure the required air flow. As a result the church always has a very pleasant climate and a light breeze can be induced over the people.
The back wall of the church consists of cavity brickwork; all vertical joints were kept open. Insulation wool has been built in the cavity thereby creating a simple cost effective acoustic solution for the back of the church.

Care was taken to minimise the heat loads on the church and as a result the roof was specified to be a roof sheet with white chromodek finish, so as to ensure maximum reflection of heat. Large roof overhangs supported by steel feature elements were designed to shade walls and to ensure indirect light in the church. On the east aesthetic shading elements were designed consisting of a steel substructure covered with shade netting. The bulk of the roof water collects in a concrete box gutter and gets channelled to the eastern side of the building. The intent is to harvest this water in the future.

The steel braces used on the outside are a continuation of the steel roofing structure inside. While functional in supporting the large roof overhang special attention was given to all the connection members of these steel braces thereby providing an element of sophistication to the building. Steel was also confidently used in balustrades and the curved I beams over the classrooms on the first floor. These curved beams provided the opportunity for high ceilings and the resulting dynamic spaces.
The church has been well received and embraced by the new congregation. Old and young identify with the church and as a community it is growing well.

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