Every church tells a story. Not just with its sculptures and artwork but also with the pour of its walls and columns, every church reveals a vision of God for us. Religious architecture has always been treated with grandeur and extravaganza of its scale, materials, and ornamentation.
However, Brutalism with its uncompromising qualities and raw richness is often adored by architects to bring out a different way to help the users to connect with their faith. It is not just empty but it proposes to show something divine abides in that space and that presence humbles all of us and draws us into the silence. Architects who created these spaces used the rawness of scale, materials, and lighting to optimize their form and function for the conviction of believers.
1. Our Lady Help of Christians, England
Built in 1967 by Richard Gilbert Scott this Roman Catholic Church is located in Tile Cross in Birmingham, UK. He designed it in a polygonal T-shaped plan having a forward faced altar with a congregation seating behind it. The roof of the church, its main eye-catching feature, is made by serrated ribbed trusses of reinforced concrete and externally cladded with copper curving upwards. It is a delight in expressive and sculptural forms, and an attempt to merge with the modern Gothic spirit. The inside has spaces between the concrete filled with stained glass by John Chrestien that lets in a soft quality of light.
A Grade II listed building, Our Lady Help of Christians Church was built as a part of many Roman Catholic Churches in Birmingham that was a reflection of the Irish migrant community that grew there in the post-war period. An amalgamation of stained glass art, architecture, and engineering it’s every element is carefully and intricately perceived.
2. Wotruba Church, Austria
The Wotruba Church located in Vienna Austria is the culmination of the sculptor Fritz Wotruba’s life fabricated by the architect Fritz G. Mayr broadening the artist’s model to create a functional walk-in sculpture. The Church looks like a pile of concrete blocks stacked up asymmetrically unlike the classical style churches found in most places. The design does not have any clear organization or evident symmetry.
The structure has a form that consists of about 152 concrete blocks holding each other in an arrangement quite distorted and chaotic. The front façade’s simple windows are often the indicator that allows natural light inside the church. Wotruba with his asymmetrical and disordered design wanted to convey that a harmonic unity can arise from a heap of chaos too. This church is a chaotic ensemble of brutalism bringing together both art and architecture with great drama and dynamic forces.
3. Church of Seed, China
Located within the countryside of the Taoist mountain of Luofu in China the Church of Seed was planned for the neighboring village people to broaden the spectrum of western religious culture within an area of 280 m2. Stirred by the form of a seed which is a reputable symbolic element from the Gospels in the Bible the church has a curled form enclosed by three curvilinear wall elements. The east wall has a cross-shaped cutout inducing morning sun rays to the inside. A solid west wall stands to block the afternoon western sun and a thickened north wall is erected to accommodate the washroom facilities. A stepped roof leads up to a viewing terrace where visitors can walk up to an observation deck to enjoy the aerial view of the scenery. The roof allows daylight to enter the interior from the north-facing skylights that are placed into the risers of the stepping roof.
Designed by Honk Kong firm O Studio Architects this church is intended, through a play of light and shadow, to provide a space of meditation and worship as well as for recreation and gathering.
4. Church of the Light, Japan
The Church of the Light in Japan is indisputable one of Tadao Ando’s bridges between nature and architecture where he defines new spatial perceptions with natural light. He proposed to bring in the concept of dual nature; of solids and voids, of light and the dark, and of stark and serene. This coexistence of differences leaves the church to be a pure unadorned space void of any ornament. The emptiness found here is to transfer them to a spiritual realm and fill the visitor spiritually.
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The structure is merely designed as an enclosed space of thick concrete walls with light pouring in illuminating the smooth texture of concrete, thus enabling light to be the controlling factor. These concrete walls are joined and seamed with acute precision and care by Japanese masons to create a smooth surface and perfectly aligned joints. Ando’s approach bends the reality between time, space, light, dark, and material into one unifying entity.
5. Church of St. Pierre, France
The last major work of Le Corbusier started in 1973 was the church of Saint-Pierre in Firminy-Vert, a two-part building, taken in the form of a basic square topped with a truncated 33 metre high cone that housed the nave with a representation of the Orion constellation. A signature feature of Le Corbusier’s architecture is the three light cannons installed on the ridge piece and the western façade.
Le Corbusier designed the lower part, comprising a base that allows a high level of exposure to light, aimed at guaranteeing maximum brightness within the building, coupled with a dense concrete shell, to host parish activities and facilities. Today it serves as home to the Interpretation Centre dedicated to Le Corbusier’s work. The upper section embraces the nave, with its two chapels. It is connected to the ground through an external white pillar, that is independent of the main framework of the building.
6. Pilgrimage Church, Germany
Gottfried Böhm’s Church of the Pilgrimage in Neviges, Germany is distinctly one of the most popular pilgrimage sites that draw in numerous visitors to witness the revered Brutalist church built that did not adhere to traditional Catholic architecture with its sharp angles and rough concrete. Consecrated in 1968, the structure is considered to be his magnum opus and has been associated with various artistic movements.
The church is one of very eccentric geometry with an angular roofline that seems to resemble the peak of a mountain. The façade is an expanse of concrete punctured with stained glass windows designed by Böhm himself that depict typical Marian themes that also includes the famous red rose window and was again free of any traditional religious symbolism.
The interior too is formed of irregularly large-scaled concrete and comprises a seating for 800 and standing room for 2,200. Louvers on the angled roof planes let in natural light into the space which is dominated by a centrally placed altar and three stories of galleries lined up on the edges for the visitors.
7. Church of Christ the Redeemer, Italy
Designed by Nicola and Leonardo Mosso in 1957 the Church of Christ the Redeemer is a brutalist church in Turin, Italy made extravagantly in brick and concrete.
The church was designed in a longitudinal plan without a transept. The walls of the church are made up of seven sections for each greater side placed at angles of sixty degrees. Sturdy buttresses are placed obliquely to the sidewalls on top of which the concrete roof rests. On looking aloft the roof appears to be a complex weave of intricate triangles. It is designed in a particular reticular system where the axes of the rods, projected on the horizontal plane, form an intertwining of equilateral triangles three meters high. Soft light enters into the interiors from the glass perforations between the triangular modules.
8. St. John’s Abbey Church, USA
St. John’s Abbey Church in Minnesota, designed by the Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer, is a great stepping stone in the religious architecture of the United States. A cast in place concrete structure with concrete trunks that carries the ceiling, and a bell banner that buffers the church Breuer’s design incorporated the customary axis of a naïve, baptistery and altar in a modern concrete structure. The church has a capacity of 1500 people with its most prominent part of the design being its façade and the shielding bell tower. The tower rises 112 feet vertically in front of the church holding five bells that sound the hours and calls for prayer. The northern façade is fitted with 430 hexagons of colorful stained glass held with concrete.
9. San Giovanni Bono Church, Italy
One of the most noticeable Brutalist churches in Italy designed by the architect Arrigo Arrighetti is the San Giovanni Bono Church dedicated to John the Good, Archbishop of Milan. Built in 1968, the church with its elongated triangle in exposed concrete, and perforated with many stained glass windows towers into the skyline like a peak as a stark contrast to the surrounding residential buildings. It has an asymmetrical diamond-shaped plan with a liturgy hall, an open central chapel, and a closed nave illuminated by a varied skylight. On the southern side are the parish halls and the oratory. The distinctiveness of the building is its sail roof, which soars from the Presbyterian area to create a spire at the façade.
10. Chapel of St. Augustine, Chile
Located in the fishing town of Punta De Choros in Chile this church was built to commemorate St. Augustine. Its design is based on the sum of angled and inclined planes moving in all directions, like a mountain emerging from the desert, referring to the geography of this Chile region.
The structure comprises a large atrium covered by an eave that runs along the entire façade. The atrium opens up as a public space for religious festivities welcoming the worshippers. The design also encompasses a central nave with a smaller nave that can either be used together or independently depending upon how many worshippers need to be accommodated. The main material used is concrete for the ceiling and walls with raw wood plank moldings used. Abstract stained glass windows are lined up on either side of the chapel combining colors that associated the desert, sea, and sky. The main facades were built to allow a seamless flow between the square and the temple with concrete pillars used as a closing system.