St Denis Church. A Mid-century Marvel Hiding in Joondanna

Perth, being the sprawling octopus that it is, tends to hide man of its architectural gems deep in the suburbs. The St Denis Church is one such gem. Located off Wanneroo Road and nestled amongst suburban housing in Joondanna, I only discovered this church by chance when cycling the backstreets home one night several years ago. Since that chance discovery I have been an admirer of its austere white brick exterior completely lacking fenestration, and that bold sweeping roofline - a simple gesture but distinctive all the same. Though I have been told that that roofline has lead many local residents over the years to mistake it for a squash court.

Designed by Architect Ernest Rossen, the church was built in 1967 and consecrated in 1968. There is no hiding its Modernist roots and there is a hint of Le Corbusier’s 1955 Notre Dame du Haut in the sculpted concrete canopy at the entry.

Upon entering the church the real beauty of that distinctive roofline is revealed. The ceiling sweeps upwards towards the altar, and is stopped short of the walls letting a shaft of soft diffused natural light wash down the walls and fill the entire space.

Insitu board formed concrete features heavily in the church interior, being utilised for the bespoke designed furniture such as the altar, lectern, screen walls and pews, and other smaller details.

The baptismal font is a beautiful piece of design in itself featuring bold cubist forms finished in glass faced concrete, formed copper and a vibrant orange glazed ceramic receptacle. All very fine examples of the late mid-century aesthetic.

The church also contains a pipe organ, this is however not original to the church, and dates back to 1957. Originally designed for and installed in the St John of God Chapel in Subiaco, this was relocated to the St Denis Church in 1994 following demolition of the Chapel.

Situated below the organ pipes and concealed behind a curved insitu concrete wall is the sacristy, a rather small but a lovely and quite space. This serves as a preparation space and connects through to the original living quarters, which are now used for administration.

It was a great honour and pleasure to be given the opportunity to have this interior all to myself to photograph. This is a real gem of mid-century Perth architecture and I so glad to share it with you.

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