House of God: Gems of Church Architecture

Notre Dame Du Haut, Ronchamp, France 1955 (Designer: Le Corbusier)

The Chapel at Ronchamp, as it is often called, is the most sculptural of Le Corbusier’s buildings. Its unanticipated form led critics to grasp for metaphors (some call it a steamship), but the famous architect simply says it is “totally free architecture”. A stand-out feature of the chapel is the dark, thickened roof, inspired by a crab shell Le Corbusier found years before on a Long Island Beach.

Inside, the results are just as unexpected. While the roof and walls appear solid from the outside, on the inside, the roof appears to float above the walls on a narrow gap filled by glass which Le Corbusier hand-painted with flowers, words, and other imagery. Details like these sound like an architecture of deception, but the spatial effect is transcendental. The Chapel at Ronchamp is now widely regarded as one of the most original works of 20th century architecture.

Church of the Light, Ibaraki-shi, Osaka, Japan 1989 (Designer: Tarao Ando)

The renowned architect, Taro Ando (1941-) was hired to design a small church in the small town of Ibaraki-shi, 25 km outside of Osaka. The Church of the Light, occupying just 1,215 square feet (113 sq. m), would cement Ando’s reputation as one of Japanese most distinguished modern architects. Ando’s design embraces his architectural philosophy, that of the duality of existence – between light and darkness solid and void, stark and serene. These dualities are nested in a structure void of any ornament, creating a pure, unadorned space for spiritual contemplation.

Saint John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville, Minnesota, US 1961 (Designer: Marcel Breuer)

Founded in 1863 on 810 hectares of land northwest of St. Cloud Minnesota, this abbey was designed by Marcel Breuer (1902–1981) for the abbey’s Benedictine monks. A highlight of the building is the sizeable trapezoidal bell banner which rises on four legs at the front of the church. On the sides are triangular pleated concrete facades with the folded plates of the walls and roof, lending the sacred space cohesion.

Grundtvig’s Church, Copenhagen, Denmark (Designer: Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint)

From six million yellow bricks on a hilltop just outside Copenhagen rises one of the world’s foremost, yet little-known Expressionist monuments – Grundtvig’s Church. Designed by architect Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint as a memorial for the famed 19th century Danish pastor, philosopher, historian and politician, N.F.S. Grundtvig, the church merged the scale and style of a Gothic cathedral with the clean-cut aesthetic of Danish modernist architecture to create a landmark worthy of its namesake.

Klint started work on the construction in 1921. By 1927, most of the building was finished with the exception of the enclosed nave. After Jensen-Klint’s death in 1930, this unfinished piece and other embellishments were completed by his son, and grandson. In the end, three generations of Klint architects shaped the monumental church with one material, that when multiplied six million times, echoes tranquillity.

Leave a Reply