Pantanassa Monastery


Location: Pembertons Road, Mangrove Mountain NSW

Architect: Design Delta Architects

Structural Engineer: Luke Tsougranis & Associates

Owner: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia Architect: Design Delta

Roofing Tile Installation: Bristile Roofing

Builder: Casimark

Photographer: Jacqui Dean

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The construction of the second stage of Australia’s first Greek Orthodox monastery to be constructed in the traditional Byzantine style has been completed, augmenting the magnificent church, or Kathilokon, which was dedicated in 2009.

In common with church buildings that have taken a century or more to complete, the Pantanassa Monastery (more correctly the Holy Monastery of the Mother of God, Pantanassa) is very much a work in progress and will be so possibly for decades to come.

The monastery is located at Mangrove Mountain, about 90 minutes north of Sydney. It is perched high on a rugged 28-hectare site, the relative remoteness and isolation allowing the monastics to focus on their contemplative and largely self-sufficient life.The introverted layout of the monastery “turns its back on the outside world,” explains Demetrios Stavropoulos, principal of Design Delta Architects, just as the residents, all males, have rejected a conventional lifestyle.“On the outside walls the openings are typically smaller and more rectangular. Inside is much more open,

Although the two stages are now complete structurally, neither is by any means complete in terms of fitout and occupation, let alone landscaping. In a commercial build this would be cause for considerable concern on the part of the building owner but the monks at Pantanassa are sanguine, viewing this as a project measured not in months or years but in decades and generations. Partly this is due to funds but also completion of some aspects of the monastery decor, such as the painting of icons that will eventually cover the church walls and ceiling, may take up to a century!

Upon completion of stage three the church will be all but enclosed by ancillary buildings, in keeping with the Greek Orthodox tradition. Partly this reflects the Orthodox belief that the church is not just a place to inspire and uplift but in a mysterious way it is Heaven. It also acknowledges the history of Mount Athos, the remote Greek peninsula whose many monasteries have often come under siege over the centuries.

Although church buildings in Greece are constructed in stone, this was impractical in Australia, both financially and logistically.“The hardest thing for me was adapting this pristine, precise material (bricks) to a very traditional form and introducing details that make the material belong to the building,”, Stavropolous told us in 2009 at the completion of the church. In both stages he has succeeded admirably with a meticulous design blending a multitude of complex brick details to enrich the surface of these already highly-articulated buildings.

Although a large portion of the stage 2 building facade is stretcher bond cavity (double) brickwork, there is a substantial amount of arched, fanning, corbelled and ‘zigzag’ brickwork to create a highly textured and decorative skin.

The second stage of the complex describes an L-shape which houses seven bedrooms with partial ensuites, a two-level library (linked by a spiral staircase), offices, kitchen and large dining room on the upper level.“After the church, the dining room is the second most important space in a monastery,” Demetrios explains.“The walls of this space will eventually be adorned with icons in a similar manner to the church.”

Directly below the dining room is a large storeroom that will enable the monks to stock extensive provisions.The back wall of the dining room secretes a deep cavity that allows air flow from the underlying storeroom to be ventilated through hit-and-miss brickwork in the gable.

The hip-and-gable roofs are tiled with La Escandella terracotta tiles imported from Spain and distributed exclusively in Australia by Bristile Roofing.These premium-quality tiles are widely considered to be among the best available and have been used in countries as diverse as Dubai, UK, Lebanon and Taiwan.The double curve design of the units selected for this project blends the ‘half barrel’ profile of traditional Mediterranean roof tiles with the functionality and ease of installation of an interlocking tile.The roofing of the quadrangle building is supported on a conventional timber structure.

The new building is designed to be extended as the need for additional accommodation grows. Completing the complex will be a more general purpose building with a reception, confessional/chapel, religious artefacts store, meeting room, and general storage. But that’s a long way off.

The complex is located in a bushfire zone which required the now well-understood measures such as firescreens on all openings, mesh over weepholes and chimneys and leafguards to gutters and the removal of all combustible materials to the exterior of the buildings. The site has 140,000 litres in tanks for firefighting, complemented by 150,000 litres of potable water in an underground tank.

Naturally the monks of Pantanassa are keen to complete this stage of the project and move out of the cramped temporary accommodation at the base of their site.While by no means palatial – that would be at odds with their ascetism – it will allow them to focus their minds and their lives on their calling.

For more information (or to make a secure online donation) go to An online shop sells books, incense, beeswax candles, ceramics and exquisite icon prints mounted on timber.

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