Vatican II (1962) was a godsend to Brutalism. The Roman Catholic Church promoted its newfound modernity and progressiveness in forward-looking buildings, generously entrusting young and hungry architects with a carte blanche.
And no diocese built more cutting-edge brutalist homes for God than the Swiss Roman Catholic Church. Its architect of choice was Walter Maria Förderer. Johanneskirche in Lucerne is his second sacral building. A trained sculptor, Förderer cut his teeth interning with Hermann Baur, a renowned architect in Basel. Unbothered by conventional architecture, he concentrated on mastering the art of creating sculptures fit for modern habitation. Johanneskirche church is no exception: the ensemble of interlocking polygonal shapes and square cut-outs comprises a chapel, rectory, accommodation and a school. It certainly cuts a striking figure, but as the church sits relatively squat, it manages to blend in neatly with its residential surroundings.
Picture the collision of a detonated Swiss WW2 alpine bunker and Kurt Schwitter’s Merzbau. Then, throw in a good measure of New Gothic’s bombast. The colossal concrete grotto was not only shockingly new, it amounted to an egregious act of heresy. At least in the eyes of the architectural critics. Förderer clearly didn’t care to save a prayer for the scathing critics and modernist purists who strictly rejected everything individual, decorative and eccentric. The Church gave its blessing.
A 2001 colour intervention by artist Monika Kiss Horvath softened the muscular masculinity considerably, accentuating the more nuanced and spiritual side of Förderer. Tones range from cerulean to deep blue around the altar area and from tangerine and grapefruit to deep pomegranate around the organ area. Lightness and serenity may not be included in the Ten Commandments of Brutalist architecture, but stark defiance to convention is certainly in true faith. Amen.
© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut