St Anthony was the first church in Switzerland built entirely from exposed concrete. Highly influential for its time, its monumental design rewrote the rules of what a church should look like. The church counts among the most significant and iconic objects of modern architecture in Switzerland. To this day the nonagenarian proto-brute has lost none of its raw and eclectic appeal. It even added a new word to the Swiss vocabulary.
Inspired by Notre Dame du Raincy by Auguste Perret, completed in 1922, Antoniuskirche’s vast expanses of raw concrete and stringent outward austerity wowed and polarised in equal measures. The sight of the 62 metre high church tower inspired the locals to affectionately nickname St Anthony “Seelensilo” or “silo for the souls”. Such was the shuddering magnitude and unashamed brashness of Moser’s design, it even made Rudolf Steiner’s Goetheanum, the next concrete-shocker to hit the region, look rather nice by comparison.
While the exterior just about sits on the good side of the kind of clean-cut monumentalism favoured by the Duce, the interior is surprisingly warm and simple – and very gothic. The coffered barrel vault of exposed concrete and its eight supporting columns even add a classical element. Here, changing tonalities and plenty of nuance dominate: the clinker brick floor radiates soothing, earthy warmth, while the modernist stained glass windows by Hans Stocker and Otto Steiger bathe the room in almost psychedelic fractals of light on sunny days. But it is the plain wall behind the altar – adorned only by a golden mosaic cross – that stands out as one of the building’s most impressive features.
St Anthony church continues to be a work of reference and place of pilgrimage for architects and other faithfuls from around the world.
A pioneer of the Modern Movement in Switzerland, Karl Moser was the first president of the International Congresses of Modern Architecture CIAM (1928-1930). Apart from St Anthony’s church, other notable objects in his oeuvre include Badischer Bahnhof in Basel, Kunsthaus Zürich and the main building of the University of Zurich. As a professor of architecture at ETH Zurich, Moser became a key mentor to a new generation of architects seeking fresh approaches.