Sacred architecture tends to conjure visions of Gothic cathedrals with flying buttresses or Baroque churches with ornate ceiling paintings. But, though they may feature modern materials or sleeker styles, contemporary churches can inspire as much wonder as their centuries-old counterparts. Architects around the world have taken the traditional elements of church architecture and reinterpreted them within present-day buildings. These welcoming structures are as much community spaces as they are houses of worship. Read on to discover 12 of the most incredible modern churches, from a copper-clad church in Finland to an indoor-outdoor sanctuary in Mexico to a towering chapel in South Korea.
Photo: Juneyoung Lim
Saemoonan Church, South Korea
The oldest Protestant church in Korea, Saemoonan Church, was founded in 1887, and in 2019 the organization unveiled a new building designed by Seoinn Design Group and Lee Eunseok. Saemoonan Church is known as “the mother church,” so the architects designed the building to curve around the front plaza, evoking the feel of a mother with open arms. The 13-story building consists of two connected towers, the taller of which, a modern take on the steeple, is topped with a suspended cross and contains a small chapel and an observatory. The main chapel is set in a large multifloor auditorium lined with warm wood.
Photo: Sandra Pereznieto
Sanctuary of the Lord of Tula, Mexico
Following the 2017 earthquake which damaged the 500-year-old Sanctuary of the Lord of Tula in Jojutla, Mexico, Colombian studio Agenda Agencia de Arquitectura and Mexican firm Dellekamp/Schleich joined forces to build a new church and public space for the community. Arched concrete walls are open on four sides of the church, and the ceiling is distinguished by brick barrel vaults. The design was inspired by a traditional church layout, with a center nave and two aisles along the walls. The simple altar is set at the bottom of the stepped floor and is framed by a semicircular concrete wall. A bell salvaged from the original church hangs on an exterior wall of the building in tribute to the historic sacred space.
Photo: Courtesy of Florian Holzherr
Kirchenzentrum Seliger Pater Rupert Mayer, Germany
Munich-based firm Meck Architekten completed the sculptural Kirchenzentrum Seliger Pater Rupert Mayer in Poing in 2018. The structure features a gray stone base made of a type of local stone called nagelfluh or conglomerate, while the distinctive roof is clad in 15,000 three-dimensional white tiles—representing heaven and earth. The roof is divided into four sections, creating the shape of the cross, and three skylights let light into the church and illuminate the altar. In lieu of a steeple, the architects raised one corner of the roof higher than the others and topped it with a cross and a weather vane.
Photo: Joana França
Church of the Holy Family, Brazil
Completed in 2022, the Church of the Holy Family in Brasília, Brazil, is set in the Brazillian Highlands, just at the edge of the Estrada Parque Indústria e Abastecimento, a major roadway that was installed as part of Lucio Costa’s Pilot Project for the development of the new capital city. ARQBR Arquitetura e Urbanismo wanted to explore the relationship between spirituality, nature, and community in the design. Dramatic monolithic concrete forms make up the complex, including the main circular nave, the rectangular parish house, and the simple campanile. The low-slug buildings allude to the vast horizons and make the church feel connected to its surroundings.
Photo: Rasmus Norlander
Våler Kirke, Norway
In 2009, the village of Våler lost its 19th-century church in a fire, and the community decided to build a new wood church, selecting a contemporary design by architect Espen Surnevik. The new church pays tribute to the former structure and its natural surroundings, and Surnevik wove the theme of resurrection throughout the design. Heartwood pine was used on the exterior, while the interior is clad in birch plywood. Soaring pyramidal roofs are topped with skylights, which flood the two main worship spaces with light, and the altar is distinguished by 28 windows. The footprint of the old church remains as a memorial in the graveyard beside Våler Kirke.
Photo: Mika Huisman
Suvela Chapel, Finland
Suvela Chapel in Espoo, Finland, was designed to be a flexible community space for the culturally diverse district. Architecture firm OOPEAA placed the chapel, parish center, youth center, and community center on one U-shaped level, which borders an inner courtyard. The height of the building varies based on the function of the space, with the tallest section towering over the chapel. Copper sheets line the exterior walls and roof to emphasize the changes in the volume of the building. The design also incorporates concrete, steel, and wood elements, but the highlight is the interior of the chapel, which is covered with a textured arrangement of spruce scantlings.
Photo: Courtesy of YuChen Chao
Tamkang Church, Taiwan
Located in the Danhai area of New Taipei City, Tamkang Church combines a house of worship and a social welfare center in an 11-story tower. Behet Bondzio Lin Architekten made the most of the small site by building upwards and stacking the sacred and functional spaces across 13 floors, including two below ground. The concrete tower is punctuated by a non-linear arrangement of windows, and the asymmetrical roof rises to a cross-topped peak. Concrete is also highlighted in the interior, including in the two-level main worship space, which can accommodate 600 people.
Photo: Courtesy of Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter
Community Church Knarvik, Norway
Located in Hordaland, Norway, and completed in 2014, the Community Church Knarvik was designed to complement the surrounding landscape and its hillside site. Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekterdistilled recognizable forms, such as the spire, sanctuary, and chapel, into sleek geometric elements within the overall façade. The firm also took inspiration from traditional Norwegian stave churches and clad the exterior in preweathered pine heartwood. Rows of tall, slim windows let natural light into the sanctuary and chapel, which are lined with light pine.
Photo: Toshiyuki Yano
Catholic Suzuka Church, Japan
Alphaville Architects designed the Catholic Suzuka Church in Suzuka to accommodate the town’s growing Catholic community. The firm brought the chapel, parsonage, and congregation hall under one sculptural mountainscape-inspired roof. Skylights are incorporated into the sections of the roof to bring in natural light and ventilation. The building was raised to allow parking underneath the structure, and the lot is seen as an entry plaza rather than an isolated space. The parking lot is connected to two entrance lobbies, which separate the different sections of the church, and was designed to feel like an extension of the surrounding city.
Photo: Jörg Hempel
Autobahnkirche Siegerland, Germany
Frankfurt-based architecture firm Schneider+Schumacher took inspiration from the church icon appearing on Germany’s road signs for Autobahnkirche Siegerland, a house of worship overlooking the busy A 45 motorway and set alongside a truck stop, hotel, and fast-food restaurant. Both sides of the angular white façade evoke the signage, so the reference comes across no matter which direction visitors approach it from. The interior is enveloped by a domed latticed wood structure made up of 66 oriented strand board ribs. Skylights within the tower bring in natural light and illuminate the simple altar.
Photo: Fernando Guerra | FG+SG
Lagares Church, Portugal
When designing the Lagares Church in Felgueiras, Portugal, FCC Arquitectura took inspiration from Christian symbols, such as a drop of water and the shape of a fish. The building’s curved walls lead from the entrance through the important areas of the church and define the tabernacle, baptistery, and altar. The architects chose a selection of long-lasting materials such as marble, granite, and ceramic, which create a harmonious palette with subtle variations in texture. The firm chose to utilize a traditional axial layout within the church, with rows of rich wood pews creating aisles leading to the altar.
Photo: Jorge Taboada
Parroquia Señor de la Misericordia, Mexico
Designed by architecture firm Moneo Brock, the Parroquia Señor de la Misericordia in Monterrey, Mexico, remixes traditional sacred architecture into a gleaming white contemporary structure. Set on a plaza in a new urban development, the basilica-inspired church features a nearly 50-foot tall nave, where glass walls, a skylight above the striking altar, and a modern take on a rose window provide natural light to the soaring space. Three smaller chapels sit alongside the nave, and sunken patios provide light to the lower level, where the firm placed the administrative offices, classrooms, and multipurpose spaces, as well as the ossuaries and a small chapel for funeral rites.