Mahora, Hastings is characterised by wide roads, concrete footpaths and quarter-acre plots. This could be anywhere in New Zealand, except for the structure that stands on the corner of Duke and Ngaio Streets, a cliff face of glass screening Perspex louvres, bookended by triangular walls and propped by a giant roof.
The church, St James, was designed by Len Hoogerbrug (1929–2019) and the foundation stone was laid in 1962.
The design’s interlocking prisms and vertical emphasis give the composition a Gothic feel. Otherwise, it is largely absent of conventional iconography. There is no steeple. Landscaping is spartan, though Calvinist would be a better word. The building is painted concrete masonry set between piers with a rough cast finish. The roof is covered in Decramastic pressed-steel tiles, as common a suburban material as is possible to find. The one concession to type is a large timber cross that rises through an open grid of columns and beams.
When first published, St James was captured by Duncan Winder: characteristic of his photography, the sky is bright, the lighting even and geometry crisp.
Photographing it 55 years on is to see anew its powerful atmosphere, derived from the colour, weight and clarity of its construction. The roof is supported on dark-stained laminated pine beams. Smaller members are made of Oregon, also stained. The two triangular walls are lined internally with redwood boards, fixed by rows of screws set diagonally. Blue, red and yellow light pours across the altar from stained-glass set in the vertical bay.
The past decade has seen a greater appreciation of Hoogerbrug. This looks to have come too late for St James. The church was designed for a congregation of 310. However, numbers fell away. The decision to close it was taken in 2017. It was sold in late 2019. At the time of writing, its new owner had not confirmed its future. The site had been marketed as ‘Big Building. Big corner site potential.’
St James Church
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