"I have always felt this new building of ours should speak for itself" – General John Gowans, former international leader of The Salvation Army
Making the message clear
Since 1881, the heart of The Salvation Army’s administration – its International Headquarters (IHQ) – has been housed at 101 Queen Victoria Street, in the middle of the City of London. The original building, a former billiards hall – just one of many things and people converted by the Army in its early days – was destroyed in the Second World War. It was replaced in 1963 by a building that, with the technological advances of the 1980s and ’90s, had become out of date, completely unadaptable and much too big for the number of people now working on IHQ. It was time for a new IHQ.
General John Gowans, leader of The Salvation Army in the early stages of the plan to rebuild IHQ, had a vision for the new building. ‘I have always felt this new building of ours should speak for itself,’ he says. He wanted it to be transparent, welcoming, cheerful even. It should be obvious that it is dedicated to the service of Salvationists around the world, he insists, adding that the visitor ‘should sense the presence of God in this place’.
The General and his team turned to Andrew Chadwick, whose architecture practice specialises in space management and design. He came up with ideas that transformed the scheme and set the tone for the whole project. First came the revelation that IHQ needed less space than it thought – a discovery that ultimately provided a ‘free’ building. Second came the creation of a concept that would tie together the secular and religious dimensions of The Salvation Army.
Chadwick’s realised from feedback that ‘the Army felt that the world saw it as a caring organisation, but they saw it more as an evangelical one, driven by the love of God’. From this, proposals were made that became watchwords for the project: the building should be frugal in size, entirely modern in its architecture and evangelical in nature, reflecting the ethos of the Movement it would house.
The concept of a Roman camp was used to put these proposals together. In a Roman camp, the general’s tent was at the centre of everything, with privacy increasing the further you moved from the hub.
So it was that the decision was made to put the General and his immediate staff at the hub of 101 – on the first floor and next to what is seen as the heart of the building – the International Chapel.
The contrast between the new building and the one it replaced can perhaps be seen most clearly in the General’s office. In 1963, the General and his staff had their own private corridor, with further corridors to the side in case anyone missed the ‘Private’ notice.
Now the General works in an office which can be seen not only by IHQ staff but also by any passers-by. The plain glass walls leave no room for privacy but make clear that The Salvation Army, from its roots to the top, has nothing to hide.
The idea of equality is seen through the layout of the floors. In a conventional office building, the ‘bosses’ get the lightest, brightest offices.
On IHQ this has been turned on its head. The international secretaries are in cellular offices in the middle of the floors while the staff who work under them have desks around the edge of the building where they can enjoy the feeling of light and space.
Perhaps the feature that most strongly makes clear The Salvation Army’s Christian base is the use of Scripture quotations in large type around the external windows.
Interestingly, this feature is echoed on the glass walls of the internal rooms which, instead of Bible verses, have excerpts from Salvationist writers and composers. On the first floor are the words of the Founder, William Booth, the second floor has the lyrics of John Gowans, the third shows Richard Slater’s poetry and Charles Coller’s penmanship is celebrated on the fourth floor.
Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal probably summed it up best when she officially opened the new IHQ. ‘This is a working building,’ she told IHQ staff, Salvation Army leaders and local dignitaries, ‘but also a worship building.’
If the latest version of William Booth’s converted building makes that point more obvious than its predecessors then the new IHQ will be more than transparent – it will take The Salvation Army’s purpose and make it clear.
Photo feature of new building