A church, referred by the Christians, is a building for their religious activities, and particularly for the worship services as a whole or a body of Christian believers. The church is a space that serves and is crucial for the community. Thus, one must think of all the aspects while designing a church.

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Sagrada Familia ©earthnworld.com
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Saint Basil’s Cathedral ©earthnworld.com

The shape of a church building is symbolism of its power and the understandings of God. However, the planning of the church has an impactful effect on the possible liturgical uses. Some churches have created sanctuaries that become entertainment spaces consisting of a stage, lighting and theatre-style seats. There is absolute truth in the statement by Winston Churchill that we shape our buildings and ever after they shape us.

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Church in Iceland ©earthnworld.com
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Modern Church Architecture ©gilbert mccarragher

The following guidelines are the ten nuggets of wisdom to keep in mind while designing a Church:

1) Selecting a Typology

i) Basilica

Typically described as a Roman public building in the forum of a Roman town, and after the Roman Empire became officially Christian, A basilica refers to a large church. It has special ceremonial rights by the Pope giving an architectural as well as a religious meaning to this typology of the church. Some of the famous examples of a Basilica are St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy, St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy and St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary.

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St Peter’s ©streetwise.world
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St. Mark’s basilica ©walksofitaly.com
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St. Stephen’s Basilica ©dailynewshungary.com

ii) Cathedral

It is a type of church that houses the seat of the bishop, and it is usually either Catholic, Anglican, Oriental Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox. A cathedral does not have a fixed size. A few cathedrals with some of the abbey churches were the largest. However, the cathedrals like Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, England or Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, USA, can be very small in their sizes. The most notable examples are Notre Dame, Paris, France (Iconic landmark of Paris), Milan Cathedral, Italy (One of the biggest cathedrals in Europe), Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany (The tallest cathedral in Europe), and Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey.

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Notre Dame ©usnews.com
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Milan Cathedral ©wheremilan.com
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Cologne Cathedral ©Timesofindia.com
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Hagia-Sophia ©independent.co.uk

iii) Pilgrimage Church

A church along the pilgrimage route, visited by the pilgrims. The Way of St. James, also known as Santiago de Compostela, is a route that leads to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of northwestern Spain. Built at places where miracles took place, These types of churches are generally located by graves of saints. Pilgrimage churches are retreats for the spiritual growth of the pilgrims that have also become quite popular amongst hiking and cycling enthusiasts, and nowadays even tour groups. St. Peter’s Basilica has over 100 tombs located beneath the main floor including 91 popes, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and Saint Pope John Paul II. Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome, Italy is also a Pilgrimage church with Borghese, Bonaparte, and Bernini buried there along with the tomb of St. Pius V, and the relics of St. Jerome.

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Way of St. James ©across-spain.es
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St. Peter’s Cathedral ©https-//streetwise.world/explore
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St. Mary Major ©holyfamilybordeaux.org

iv) Conventual Church

It is a type of church which is attached or belongs to a convent or monastery. St. John’s Co-Cathedral is a famous example of a conventual church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

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St. John’s Co-Cathedral ©dreamstime.com

v) Collegiate Church

It is a church where a college of canons maintains the daily office of worship, and a dean or a provost presides. The contemporary models of the church are established under two or more pastors but without a bishop. The collegiate church, formed on the model of a cathedral church, was often supported by extensive lands held by the church. Marble Collegiate Church, Manhattan, New York (one of the oldest continuous Protestant congregations in North America), and Saint Paul Collegiate Church, Storrs, Connecticut are a few notable examples.

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Marble Collegiate Church ©pinterest.com
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Marble Collegiate Church ©bdcnetwork.com
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Saint Paul Collegiate Church ©en.wikipedia.org

vi) Evangelical Church Structures

The architecture, of an Evangelical church, is delineated by the Latin Cross that is one of the only spiritual symbols used in the structures. Theatres, schools or multi-purpose rooms on Sundays are rooms reserved for the service. These types of churches do not have religious symbols in their places of worship viz. statues, icons, or paintings. On the stage of the auditorium, there is usually a baptistery or sanctuary.

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Jaro Evangelical Church ©wikiwand.com

vii) Alternative Buildings

Sometimes even the old church buildings can become a prime location for attractive homes or city centre entertainment venues. Many recent churches also host meetings in public buildings like schools, universities, cinemas or theatres. To redevelop church properties into mixed uses as well as to increase the revenue while preserving the property, private real estate companies often partner with the church management.

The notable examples of these types of churches in the UK include the former tram power station, a former bus garage, and a former windmill converted into churches.

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Reigate Heath Windmill ©en.wikipedia.org

2) Site Planning and Sanctuary Orientation

A feature of the traditional Christian church is that the front altar is in the east-facing orientation or the direction of the rising sun. This practice is symbolic of the entrance of Christ with the morning light in the sanctuary. 

Originated in the Byzantine era in the 4th century, The orientation of the sanctuary and site planning became quite prevalent in the West in the 8th and 9th century. A few of the examples like Petershausen Constance, Bamberg Cathedral, Augsburg Cathedral, Regensburg Cathedral, and Hildesheim Cathedral follow the old Roman custom of having the altar at the west end and the entrance at the east.

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The East-West Axis of a Church based on St Marys, Nantwich ©www.mysticmasque.com

3) Functional Areas

While designing a church, functionality and aesthetics are equally quite vital. A church needs to have regular services along with congregations. 

Church architecture has a common practice of planning the form in the shape of a cross having a dome or vaulted space. Furthermore, the plan of a church could be either be a circle to represent eternity or in the shape of an octagon or a star which is symbolic of Christ bringing light to the world. Recently, plans have developed to a spire shape with a tall tower on the west end of the church. 

The church architecture involves specific design elements such as a steeple, bells, stained glass windows, or a dome. Towers and domes have a symbolic impact on the viewers, visitors and worshippers by directing towards the heavens while inspiring a range of thoughts and emotions in them. Apart from this, there are large group meeting rooms, entertainment spaces, and spaces for worship near the sanctuary and main entrance to the facility. 

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Variations of church plan forms ©pinterest.com
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St. Peter’s Basilica ©earthnworld.com
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Church of the Holy Sepulchre ©earthnworld.com
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Westminster-Abbey ©treknova.com

4) Efficient and Cost-effective

The church architecture style must create a plan that is sensitive to the history and heritage of the church, as well as also bring focus on meeting future needs. For designing an efficient and cost-effective church, it is crucial to understand and adhere to a proper building process, keeping in mind the local zoning and noise ordinances. The church design needs to have an objective and measurable understanding of how efficient and cost-effective the building is.

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St. Johns Co-Cathedral ©gpsmycity.com

5) Ceiling Height

Church with a high ceiling helps in creating the feeling that space is of great importance. Not only this, but the correct height also helps with good acoustics, praying in unison, and projection of the voice in the church. Thus, the design of the church must be appropriate for the sound to travel to the entire audience equally than to retrofit the space with reinforced sound systems later. In the sanctuary design, materials like plaster, wood, or acoustic panels, are used for the ceiling.

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Ceiling of chapel ©gilbert mccarragher
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Colours of Interiors ©earthnworld.com

6) Colour Concept

Colour creates a lot of interest and drama in the interior space of the church. The walls must be of off-white or cream neutral shades because dark colours tend to absorb light which makes the worship space appear darker and thus making it difficult to read text or music. Incorporate accent colours in upholstery, graphics, borders, accessories, and artwork for accentuating the design scheme consistency.

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St Paul’s Cathedral ©earthnworld.com
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Basilica of Bom Jesus interior ©treknova.com

7) Symmetry and Balance

A balanced worship design in the church architecture unifies a sense of the space and enclosure. It does not mean to create symmetrical spaces but places which are visually appealing and calming to enhance the entire worship process. Proper seating layouts with appropriate widths of aisles focussing on a stage is crucial to create an overall sense of balance. Along with proportional spacing, the sanctuary, platform area, altar area, pulpit, or other focal points of the worship space should be centred to allow most members of the congregation an unobstructed view to create a symmetrical worship environment.

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Cologne-Cathedral ©earthnworld.com
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Artworks ©ncregister.com

8) Accessories and Artworks

Artworks in churches such as statues, tapestries, sculptures, paintings, crosses, crucifixes, murals, mosaics, and decorative windows, etc. create an impact and complement the interior finish and overall design. 

Appropriately sized, proportional signs must be used, at a consistent height at all locations for viewing distance. They should also be compatible with the facility design scheme. Select neutral coloured carpeting throughout the staff support areas and religious education classrooms. The entire colour scheme for the sanctuary should harmonize with the worship area as well. 

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Westminster Abbey ©earthnworld.com
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Decors ©pinterest.com

9) Decorations and Finishes

Use of numerous fabrics, polished woods, lighting fixtures, artworks, and windows create drama and give the space a grand feeling. The right combination of decorations and finishes can set the right vibe and mood for the worship space. Rich fabrics add warmth to the room, and the use of decorative windows commonly known as stained glass windows in the sanctuary harmonizes the interior decors and finishes. Other than stained glass use of art glass, etched glass, and faceted glass windows is also done.

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Stained Glass ©alt-w.com
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Saint Paul Collegiate Church ©pinterest.com

10) Multi-purpose Rooms

Temporary stages or platforms need power and audio-visual connections.  

These rooms can serve as dining areas for meal-centred events, like a reception, or even as worship overflow seating areas. The multi-purpose rooms with the installation of sound-absorbent and movable walls also allow for numerous private functions like weddings, showers, or musical events.

Multi-purpose room in Church ©heimsath.com
Multi-Purpose Hall ©Heimsath.com

Yachika Sharma is an architect who recently graduated from Chandigarh College of Architecture. She has a profound passion for architecture, poetry, art and travelling. She believes that it is crucial to go on to an adventure to fathom a city and unravel the little subtleties of city life.

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