Trustees for Quakers in Britain have agreed to go ahead with an inspiring refurbishment of the large meeting space in Friends House, London. However, in a move which will dismay some and reassure others, Trustees have decided to decline the offer to incorporate a feature called a Skyspace, including a retractable roof, created by Quaker artist James Turrell and instead opted for a plain fixed glass roof light.
Trustees say they heard concerns that to install the major artwork may be in conflict with Quaker commitment to become a low-carbon sustainable community and may not be a right use of money.
Light is significant for Quakers. Trustees, in their minute said: "The central importance of light, both natural and artificial, in the installation resonates with the longstanding significance of light in the expression of faith for Quakers. There are many who are enthusiastic about this aspect of the Skyspace. However, we have also heard of concerns that the installation does not necessarily reflect our concept of the Light being from within, reflecting our experiential approach to spirituality and faith."
The refurbishment is the latest phase of work to make Friends House more sustainable. Solar panels have been fitted, along with energy-efficient lighting, wall insulation and heat-exchange systems. This phase will see the Large Meeting House, break-out areas and toilet blocks become more accessible.
To fund the work, including the plain fixed glass roof light, Trustees have set aside £4.25 million out of the £6.6 million raised by selling a long lease on nearby Quaker-owned Courtauld House. The James Turrell installation would have cost an additional £1.4 million.
Friends House in central London is the headquarters of Quakers in Britain and is traditionally used for Britain Yearly Meeting – Quakers’ annual decision-making forum. A twentieth century listed building, designed by architect Hubert Lidbetter, it includes offices for Britain Yearly Meeting’s centrally employed staff, an historic library and the Quaker Centre with its worship space, bookshop, café and restaurant. The building also operates as a successful conference and events centre, with rooms let to generate income for Quaker work.
Trustees heard calls to retain the traditional plainness of meeting houses and heard concerns that: a major artwork might not be in line with Quaker commitment to simplicity; might increase their carbon footprint at a time when Quakers are focused on sustainability; and might compromise Quaker witness to those suffering under an inadequate economic system, particularly at a time of austerity and would send the wrong message about Quaker commitment to equality and the right use of money.
The work will start in June 2013 after Yearly Meeting, the annual assembly with supreme decision-making authority for Quakers in Britain and will take one year to complete. The first Yearly Meeting in the refurbished space will be in 2015, with planning already under way for the 2014 event to be a residential meeting outside London.