Martin Terrance Purdy, Architect. Dip Arch, Dip TP, Dip Lit Arch, MA, Phd, RIBA.
February 22nd 1939 – November 12th 2016.
Martin Purdy was born in Oakham, Rutland, the son of Gordon Purdy, OBE, FRCS (1900 – 1976 ) and Margaret Purdy ( 1900 – 1950 ). After being educated at Oakham School and Lancing College in Sussex he undertook his architectural training at the Polytechnic of Central London. He subsequently obtained his MA in Conservation at York University and his PhD at Birmingham University. Martin, a bachelor throughout his life, lived principally in Birmingham with other residencies in Ulverston and Kendal.
In the early 1960s, the University of Birmingham set up an Institute for the Study of Worship and Religious Architecture, investigating the challenges facing many disciplines in an age of great social and physical change. Collaboration was made with the Birmingham School of Architecture, particularly over a live project for a new church in the suburb of Hodge Hill. This brought Martin into contact with Peter Bridges and both undertook the Research Fellowships that were available from the collaboration.
By the time both Fellowships were coming to the end of their tenure, Martin and Peter had teaching positions within the School of Architecture. Peter was receiving requests from former clerical contacts to advise about their buildings. Most of these concerned churches, including a commission for a new small building in the New Town of Redditch and later, an award-winning layout of sheltered housing on glebe land in Nuneaton. Initially there was no office base and Martin worked in his spare time from his kitchen table. In the early seventies, the architectural practice of Peter Bridges and Martin Purdy, Architects, Planners and Ecclesiastical Consultants rented a small office in Highfield Road, Edgbaston.
Quite soon, the practice was asked to design an Ecumenical Centre for the New Town of Skelmersdale, which had been founded to provide new homes and facilities for over-crowded Liverpool. The site for the Centre was on a main pedestrian way close to the proposed town centre. Until that time most new churches were inspired by the Liturgical Movement; a force primarily from Continental Europe, which placed the focus for worship within a gathered congregation. Social and ancillary facilities were usually kept away from the “church” space, often in a separate if linked building.
Building on the design philosophies of the Hodge Hill church, Skelmersdale integrated all functions within three levels of the one building, grouped around a clear double-height space, free of fixed furnishings.This provided a flexible space that could be laid out for any number of uses, including worship. After over forty years, the Centre continues functioning well.
Whilst the Skelmersdale building was progressing, the practice was employed to design an important new United Reformed Church in the town centre of nearby St Helens. In 1974 with the increasing workload the practice employed Kenneth Fisher as its first full-time employee. Around the same time, Peter Bridges, an ordained priest, was appointed by the Chelmsford Diocese to be the Diocesan Planning Officer and Archdeacon of Southend. Inevitably, it was not long before Peter retired as a Partner in the architectural practice. At about this time, the name of the practice was shortened to APEC Architects, an abbreviation of Architects, Planners and Ecclesiastical Consultants.
Peter Bridges had set up a small Research Unit at Chelmsford and the work included a study of the Parish of East Ham. Martin contributed to this work as part of his PhD research into the impact of urban growth and the Industrial Revolution on the design of church buildings. After the study was published, a new Rector was appointed to the East Ham parish. This was Stephen Lowe, and Martin already knew him from Stephen’s time as a Birmingham- based curate. Stephen was keen to see the ideas documented in the parish study put into practice, and this led to a series of church projects in London, including St Bartholomew’s Church Centre at East Ham, St Michael and All Angels at Little Ilford, St Mark’s at Forest Gate and the Beckton Church Centre.
Towards the end of the seventies, with a growing workload, the practice moved to a new building at 2 Salisbury Road, Moseley in Birmingham. At first, the building was larger than needed, and so the bold decision was made to open a commercial art gallery in the spare space. The was called Timaeus and Martin took an enthusiastic part in organising monthly exhibitions of local artists’ work. He continued throughout his life to be a keen collector of original art.
During the eighties and nineties, the practice continued to grow and eventually needed to occupy the whole building, necessitating the closure of Timaeus. Whilst church and community-based projects formed a large proportion of the workload, social housing became increasingly significant. In particular, Springboard Housing Association in London and Moseley and District Churches Housing Association in Birmingham were clients for a number of relatively large schemes. One particular church project stands out from this period. Three churches, Anglican, Methodists and URC, in the Birmingham suburb of Cotteridge worked together as a Local Ecumenical Project with the aim of using one of their buildings to house everyone. APEC coordinated the group and after around five years the new Cotteridge Church was opened on the site of the former Methodist building. The project proved to be very successful and continues to be so.
In 1991 Martin’s book, Churches and Chapels, Design and Development Guide, was published. Many of APEC’s designs are illustrated in this book, together with the design procedures and principles that guided them. In particular, Martin explains the feasibility process in considerable detail emphasising the fundamental need for discussion, research and questioning that, thoroughly done, will enable a robust architectural brief to evolve. Only then, can design options be properly considered.
At the end of the nineties, due to a reduction in workload, the practice made a decision to move to the Custard Factory in Digbeth where it was to remain until 2008 prior to its move to the Birmingham Gun Quarter.
Having obtained a Master Degree in Conservation, Martin was able to undertake more specialist work in the conservation of churches. In particular he was appointed as Architect to both Sheffield and Wakefield Cathedrals. As well as the ongoing fabric repairs, Sheffield resulted in a commission to design a prestigious Community Resources Centre.
More locally, Martin was Architect to St Martin’s in the Bull Ring. The church formed a major focal point within the proposed Bull Ring redevelopment and, having attracted substantial financial input from the commercial developers, was able to afford a major external restoration, a reordering of the interior and the construction of a new community wing. With this project and the Cathedral work, the practice began to prosper again.
As Martin approached his seventieth year, he was planning his retirement from the practice and his final church design was a new church at Beswick in Manchester.
Martin’s retirement years were mainly spent in Kendall in his beloved Lake District where he continued to enjoy his walking. He still retained an apartment in Birmingham, enabling him to keep in touch with his friends and regularly attend concerts at Symphony Hall.
He died at Lancaster Royal Infirmary after a short illness.
APEC Architects is still going strong, and what Martin started in 1969 is something to be rightly proud of. There have been more than seventy church related projects completed during the past forty-seven years, and Martin’s personality, design philosophies and guidance have left their mark on all those privileged to have worked with him.
Churches and Chapels, Design and Development Guide, published by Butterworth Architecture, 1991.
Housing on Sloping Sites (with Barry Simpson)
“Le Corbusier and the Theological Dilemma” : chapter in The Open Hand ed. Russell Walden MIT Press. 1977.
Forward to Voices of Silence by Russell Walden.
Numerous articles on church building for specialist magazines in the UK, USA, Belgium, Austria, Sweden.
Active participation in Conferences and Seminars concerned with ecclesiastical building. London, Liverpool, Sheffield, Chelmsford, Birmingham.
Skelmersdale Ecumenical Centre.
The United Reformed Church, St Helens
St Bartholomew’s Church Centre, East Ham.
St Mark, Forest Gate.
St Michael and All Angels, Little Ilford.
The Cotteridge Church, Birmingham.
St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham
St Mary, Bramall Lane, Sheffield.
Sheffield Cathedral, Community Resources Centre. Beswick Church and Community Centre, Manchester.