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Design a Church Chair and win

Date: 09 January 2012

The Church of England has announced a competition for design students, leading designers, manufacturers and contractors to design new church seating. The Church of England is responsible for 16,000 parish churches, 12,500 of which are listed, and, as for all developments in church buildings, aspires to the highest quality design for new chairs.

The competition has two categories:
  • Design a chair under £100 - open to students and recent graduates (cash prize and opportunity to pitch to manufacturers)
  • Design a seat (chair or bench) for churches - open to all.

Janet Gough, Director of the Archbishops' Council's Cathedral and Church Buildings Division, said: "We want to encourage chair designs to enhance the buildings they are placed in and to be celebrated by present and future generations.

"In our experience some re-ordering schemes are being compromised by the installation of unsuitable chairs which fail to complement historic interiors whilst others fail to meet the objectives of the parish in practical terms. We want to inspire a new generation of designers and furniture makers to engage with this issue."

Matthew Rice, illustrator and architectural enthusiast, as well as a member of the judging panel said: "The Victorian pews may have been swept away to reveal the uncluttered medieval space but too often this is ruined by indifferent or downright ugly modern chairs. This competition will help to right the situation."

Luke Hughes, renowned church furniture designer, said: "Designing seating for churches is less about producing a product than it is about furnishing some of the greatest architectural interiors of all time - it's a huge challenge to any budding furniture designer, with enormous potential for those who do it well."

Entries must be submitted by 30 March 2012, and the results will be announced at an awards ceremony on 14 June at St John's Church, Hyde Park accompanied by an exhibition of finalists' chairs.

Anne Sloman OBE, Chair of the Church Buildings Council, said: "Increasingly congregations are exploring the opportunity for creating a more flexible, multi-functional space in their church by replacing their existing seating. The Church Buildings Council of the Church of England has no fixed policy on removing pews but judges each case on its individual merits. In many cases the Council supports the retention of pews of high quality, but this is not the situation everywhere. Our concern is that there is room to improve the replacements available.

"The intention of the competition is to inspire high quality church seating designs (both chairs and benches) that can be retailed at an affordable price. The real challenge will be to see whether comfort and practicality can be combined with good and new design which is sympathetic to historic interiors."

Designs need to be:

  • ergonomic,
  • sympathetic to historic interiors,
  • sufficiently robust for regular use requiring minimum maintenance,
  • comfortable without dependency on upholstery,
  • workable on historic floors,
  • able to stack or fold neatly and compactly,
  • lightweight and easy to lift,
  • practical for mass production,
  • with the option of being linked, and of having a book holder and chair arms.

Ideally designers should specify UK manufacture as well as sustainably and locally sourced materials.

The Panel includes:

  • The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres, Bishop of London (Chair)
  • John Makepeace OBE – furniture designer and maker
  • Matthew Rice – illustrator and architectural enthusiast
  • The Revd Stephen Mason – Vicar of St John’s, Hyde Park
  • Anne Sloman OBE – Chair, Church Buildings Council

Criteria for Assessment:
The judging panel will assess how the designs respond to the outline specification and how the chairs and benches would interact within an historic ecclesiastical interior. Ultimately the winning designs will be chosen on the basis of affordability, functionality, comfort and aesthetic merit.

The Process:
The judging panel will meet in April to produce a short-list from the applications.

Category 1 Prize:
Finalists will be invited to pitch their designs to representatives from leading church chair manufacturers including Luke Hughes & Co and Howe UK. Cash honorarium for winner.

Category 2 Award:
Finalists will have time to amend their designs and to make prototypes before the final judging day and exhibition. The winning design will be used in our campaign to encourage parishes to seek good design in church seating.

For further information and guidance on church seating, see ChurchCare website:

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