Christ Church Tower

Boyarsky Murphy

Boyarsky/Murphy slips an 11-hour home into the tower of Christ Church in London

By Raymond Ryan and Sarah Amelar

Christ Church was one of four dozen iconic churches erected by Christopher Wren in the City of London after 1666, when the Great Fire annihilated much of the famous Square Mile—a world center, then and now, for trading and banking. Close to Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, with its spectacular dome, the tower of Christ Church has recently, almost surreptitiously, been converted by Boyarsky Murphy Architects into a remarkable residence at the heart of the capital.

Photo © Boyarsky Murphy
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Having suffered almost complete destruction by German bombing during World War II, the nave of the church remains a ruined carapace surrounding a roofless void, now a Memorial Rose Garden. But the tower, constructed from blocks of Portland stone, survived. (It was partially rebuilt in the 1950s to stabilize the structure.)

The woman who chose to commission an 11-story “flat” inside this great steeple was not Rapunzel herself, but Kate Renwick, who had grown up in the States and Ireland. A widow and mother of two college-age sons, she had held high office at the investment bank of Goldman Sachs. After retiring from work in this very neighborhood, London’s financial district, she happened to spot a photo of the tower, up for sale, in a real estate agent’s window. By then, the tower’s interior lay in a derelict state.

Open to adventure and encouraged by her sons, Renwick soon envisioned a reincarnation of the great monolith. Before gaining explicit permission to convert it into a home, she engaged the firm of Boyarsky Murphy, which she had found via the Client Advisory Service of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Nicholas Boyarsky, son of former Architecture Association chairman Alvin Boyarsky, had worked with Zaha Hadid and Michael Hopkins before forming his own small firm with his wife, Nicola Murphy, in 1994. Their previous projects, with a distinctively clean-lined, Modernist bent, had included a prize-winning house in Holland Park, West London, and the charmingly named Nook, a home on Eel Pie Island on the Thames.

Nicola Murphy and Nicholas Boyarsky, Architects; Photo © Boyarsky Murphy

According to Boyarsky, the landmarked status of Christ Church caused significant delays, resulting in an 18-month approval process. The two most critical design problems, he notes, were “circulation and how to make the interior work in terms of light,” especially as no new window openings would be allowed. From the outside, the tower gives few clues that a 2,500-square-foot residence now rises inside of it. Only new oak doors at its base offer a glimpse of the architectural intervention.

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