Zoroastrian centre, Rayners Lane, former cinema (credit; Jonathan Fuller-Rowell) 

CREAM researcher, artist and Senior Lecturer, Julie Marsh, has been awarded a 2022 RIBA grant for the project, Moving Pictures: reusing cinemas as places of worship in the diaspora. The project is co-led with Kate Jordan from the School of Architecture and Cities and combines primary research with the innovative art-based methodology, ‘site-integrity’ to investigate the adaptive reuse of cinemas as places of worship and explore questions of faith and diaspora in the contemporary urban landscape. 

The project will use pioneering cross-disciplinary methods to examine the adaptive reuse of cinemas as places of worship. In doing so, the research will capture a vital snapshot of faith and diaspora in the contemporary urban landscape, which may be used to inform future heritage practices. Close readings will be made of three sites in London: the former Ace Cinema in Rayners Lane, adapted by ZTFE (Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe); The Ruach City Church in Kilburn by African diaspora Pentecostals; the Azizye Mosque in Stoke Newington by Turkish Muslims. In addition to offering a picture of faith in the twenty-first century, the case studies will provide valuable information on the role of planning in the reuse of heritage buildings, exploring practical constraints but also the potential for generative dialogue.

Architectural detail in Zoroastrian Centre, Rayners Lane

The project will combine scholarly research with the innovative art-based methodology, ‘Site-integrity’ (developed by the project’s co-leader, Julie Marsh). This method directly involves communities in the capture and analysis of their own cultural heritage, through interactive workshops and co-􏰖created film installations. These artworks will be designed to reflect the architectural significance of the case studies as former cinemas. To understand the wider context, the team will visit a selection of cinemas that have been reused as mosques, temples and black majority churches across the UK. In each of the site visits and case studies, the research will explore encounters between heritage bodies, local communities and faith groups, examining intersections of the sacred and secular; assimilation and autonomy. By uncovering the role of faith communities in shaping and negotiating their own spaces the project will demonstrate that adaptive reuse of heritage buildings by diaspora communities is a practice that is culturally enriching, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive. 

“The reuse of cinemas as places of worship is a growing practice in the UK – there are currently 18 mosques and churches in listed former cinemas alone. This award will explore the intersections of faith and secular society in adaptive reuse of architectural sites and support the dissemination of my pioneering research methodology: Site-integrity.”  – Julie Marsh

Find out more about the award here.