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St John's Church, St.Johanneskirche, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

St John’s Church

Picture of Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

The Second Vatican Council (1962) was a godsend for Brutalism. The Roman Catholic Church promoted its new-found modernity and progressiveness by giving young and hungry architects a free hand.

The Second Vatican Council (1962) was a godsend for Brutalism. The Roman Catholic Church promoted its new-found modernity and progressiveness with forward-looking buildings, generously giving young and hungry architects a free hand.

And no other diocese built more cutting-edge Brutalist homes for God than the Swiss Roman Catholic Church. Their architect of choice was Walter Maria Förderer. St John’s Church in Lucerne is his second sacral building. A trained sculptor, Förderer cut his teeth as an apprentice to Hermann Baur, a renowned Basel architect. He remained an unorthodox “concrete sculptor” who created more inhabitable sculptures than conventional buildings. St John’s Church is no exception: with its polymorphic, angular forms and interlocking elements, it immediately catches the eye. The sacral sculpture comprises a rectory, a chapel, flats and a school.

Picture the collision between a detonated WW2 Swiss Alpine bunker and Kurt Schwitter’s Merzbau (Google). Then throw in a good measure of New Gothic bombast. The colossal concrete grotto was not only shockingly new, it was an egregious act of heresy. At least in the eyes of architectural critics. But Förderer clearly didn’t bother to save a prayer for the scathing critics and modernist purists who strongly rejected anything individual, decorative or eccentric. The church gave its blessing, regardless.
A colour intervention by artist Monika Kiss Horvath in 2001 softened the muscular masculinity and emphasised Förderer’s more nuanced and spiritual side. Tones range from cerulean to deep blue around the altar, and from tangerine and grapefruit to deep pomegranate around the organ. Lightness and serenity may not be among the Ten Commandments of Brutalist architecture, but a bold defiance of convention is certainly in the true faith. Amen.
St John's Church, St.Johanneskirche, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Goetheanum, Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 1924-1928, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Swissmill Tower, Haarder Haas Partner, Zurich, 2013-2016, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Stettbach School, Secondary School, Esther + Rudolf Guyer, Zurich, 1964-1967,© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Autosilo Balestra, multi storey car park and shopping centre, Carlo Cesarini, Lugano, 1978 Ticino, Swiss brutalism. Explore more on Heartbrut.com