3 Examples of Modern Church Architecture

Architects around the world have reinterpreted traditional elements of a church to create modern places of worship.

In this article, you’ll discover three examples of modern church architecture, which are Notre-Dame du Haut, Thorncrown Chapel, and Light of the Church. Through their unique designs and innovative use of light and materials, these chapels offer not only spiritual solace but also architectural inspiration.

Notre-Dame du Haut

On a hill overlooking the village of Ronchamp, France, stands Notre-Dame du Haut. The original Catholic chapel was largely destroyed during WWII, so Architect Le Corbusier was asked to build a new one, which he completed in 1954. It has become one of his most iconic designs and is considered one of the most important buildings of the 20th century.

The Layout

On the outside of the main chapel, three white walls curl inward to offer additional chapels for private services. Two sit on either side of the north entrance, and one is to the southeast side of the main entrance on the south facade.

The west facade has a double-barrel gutter that directs rainwater into a pool at ground level, and the eastern facade features an outdoor chapel that can accommodate 10,000 worshipers.

Following the natural slope of the hillside, the floor leads down toward the altar, which is underneath the highest point of the chapel.

The Materials

The decision to have concrete walls whitewashed with plaster was a practical and aesthetic decision, as Le Corbusier recognized it would be difficult to transport bulky materials up the hill.

Le Corbusier separated the south and east walls from the ceiling, allowing a narrow strip of light to shine through. The two concrete shells that make up the earth-colored roof are held by walls embedded with columns.

Windows glazed in a mixture of clear and colored glass were irregularly dispersed across the walls. They filter light throughout the space and let people see the clouds, foliage, and passersby.

Thorncrown Chapel

Nestled in the woods just outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is Thorncrown Chapel. Jim Reed purchased the land in 1971 and built his house atop the hill. People wanting a better view of the Ozark hills would go up to his property. Rather than turn them away, he wanted to build an inspiring place to relax. Architect E. Fay Jones designed the chapel, and it opened in 1980. It is one of the most celebrated pieces of architecture in the state.

The Natural Setting

This magnificent wooden structure features 425 windows and over 6,000 sq. ft. of glass. It sits atop more than 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone and is made of all organic materials to fit its natural surroundings.

The building materials primarily consist of pressure-treated pine 2x4s, 2x6s, and 2x12s. Larger elements, such as the trusses, were assembled on the floor and raised into place. The only steel is a diamond-shaped pattern in its wooden trusses.

The Ambiance

Light, shadows, and reflections play a major role in the chapel’s ambiance. The elaborate trusses and surrounding trees create ever-changing patterns of light and shadows during the day. At night, reflections of the crosses in the lights seemingly envelop the entire building. As a result, its appearance changes each hour of the day and season of the year. Thorncrown Chapel never looks quite the same.

Church of the Light

Just outside of Osaka, Japan, in the small town of Ibaraki, stands the Church of the Light. Completed in 1989, it is probably the most famous of all the churches that Architect Tadao Ando designed.

The Concrete

The modern structure consists of a rectangular-shaped main building. One wall is touched by a wall that’s at a 45° angle, which directs the flow of traffic. The angled wall also helps control the amount of light that enters the chapel.

With a relatively low budget of about $250,000 USD for construction costs, Ando made use of inexpensive materials like wood and reinforced concrete.

The Cross

Ando expressed there is no light without darkness.

Since the sun rises in the east, Ando formed large slits in the east facade, allowing light to filter into the space in the early morning and throughout the day. The altar is placed in front of the wall, with the cross facing the wooden benches.

Otherwise, there is no other prominent religious symbol present. The minimalist architecture allows the light from the cross to have a very powerful effect.

Build a Church

Whether you have dreams of building a new church, renovating or expanding on an existing church, or even repurposing a church to be a home or restaurant, Mitchell Wall Architecture & Design is here to bring your vision to life. Our dedicated team of professionals will help you create a sacred space that uplifts and offers solace to all who enter.

Contact us today to embark on this inspiring journey!

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