The German theologist Martin Luther is best known as the author of the Protestant Reformation, a radical movement which changed the role of religion in European culture. In the 1500’s he ruffled Catholic feathers by claiming that money — as in donations to the church — couldn’t buy salvation. In a highly controversial move to make religion more accessible to the people, he translated the Bible into German from Latin. So what would Luther’s beliefs translate to when it comes to architecture? Austrian architects Coop Himmelb(l)au have just completed a gorgeous new church in Hainburg, Austria, that they say adheres to Luther’s theological principles.
The church manages to make a grand statement with little square footage and a handful of natural materials. The centerpiece of the church is a round metal form that sits atop the building like a hat (and, some might say, a little tip of the hat to Frank Gehry). The massive piece of steel was fabricated using shipbuilding methods, which molded it into sculptural curves that create three large skylights, flooding the interior with natural light that’s a beautiful metaphor for spiritual enlightenment.
Inside, the building is filled with warm natural woods and stark white stucco, a nod to the distance that Luther hoped to create between religion and extravagance. The prayer room is a study in simplicity. The altar is a dramatic statement rendered subtly — just a piece of unfinished wood, sliced horizontally and vertically to make the shape of a cross, and bored with round holes like Swiss cheese. Again, it’s showing the transparency and openness of Luther’s ideas, but the effect of catching glimpses of the city outside creates a beautiful connection between what’s happening inside and its relevancy to the world at large. The matching chairs give a sense of unity to the space.
The layout of the building, which takes up residence on a tiny corner lot where a church previously existed, is also interesting in a practical way. The space is divided into two rooms, a prayer room and a meeting room, which are bisected by the entranceway. Yet as the prayer room fills with people, the doors to both rooms can be opened, allowing for overflow seating in the meeting room.
Perhaps the most stunning element is the bell tower, a dramatic loop of steel that feels like a miniature Gateway Arch, albeit one with more personality. The 20-meter-tall tower is made of the same super-thin steel, anchored securely to the building’s foundation below. It’s almost like a pair of legs standing on the corner, one foot placed hesitantly behind the other. In fact, instead of a steeple that dominates the landscape, there’s something human about this tower — fitting, since Luther was responsible for bringing religion to the people.
[Photos by Duccio Malagamba]