ABSTRACT: This thesis is the result of one year research on the construction of a temple. Two main ideas are discussed here: the mental construction, the idea of a space devoted to religion, and the physical construction, the construction of a building able to meet very specific requirements.

 Three case studies are analysed of religious buildings constructed between the 1920s and the 1960s by Swedish architect Sigurd Lewerentz , which, as their projects are analysed, also provide material for discussion on religious architecture and answers to the questions raised during the analysis.





"When Solomon was twelve years old, he climbed onto the terrace of his father's palace and meditated on the high grounds where people usually honored God. (…) Having considered on the drawbacks of his people's architecture, he thought about building a temple for the Lord. Considering that terraces and temples are not adequate for meditation, a house should be built that inspired decorum and solemnity. And Solomon's project was thus born. It was so famous that even today we consider it a model, though we do not reflect on the core of the concept in which gratitude merges with the highest form of love. A temple is an evidence of gratitude. (…) Later, the temple was looted by Chaldean invaders and destroyed. Yet, all temples are raised in honour of God's kindness, which Solomon and no one else knew, and that is why the things of the Earth lead us to contradiction." (Agustina Bessa Luís, 1998 [my transl.])


The theme of temple construction, besides the general architecture issues, provides a wide range of research in view of issues related to its construction. Since the beginning of time, humans have felt the need for a religious space. Temples are always had a crucial role in societies and the way they communicate indicates their role in the culture.

So as to better discuss the issues related to building a temple, we will research the work of architect Sigurd Lewerentz, specifically, three religious buildings he designed. We aim to understand the causes and consequences of building such buildings and the impact they have in the context they are erected in and in people's lives.


Sigurd Lewerentz's life, a Swedish architect (1885-1975), is mostly spent resolving issues related to construction and remained oblivious to the ideals of contemporary European architects, such as Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe and Walter Gropius. Lewerentz's work can be divided into two periods, each representative of the themes the architect devotes himself to: the first, of understanding, learning and renewal of language and the second, of experimentation and application of acquired knowledge. The Resurrection Chapel in Woodland Cemetery is representative of the first period and the two churches, St. Mark's and St Peter, are representative of the second. The two latter projects represent Lewerentz's way of communicating his ideas on the relation between human kind, the building and nature.


This work aims to provide clues to understand Sigurd Lewerentz, the main theme of his work and their possible contribution to current architecture. We will analyse the three case studies previously referred to, followed by an analogy between Lewerentz's buildings and wider works he conducted, such as music, sculpture and painting. We aim to disclose some of the essence behind Sigurd Lewerentz's architecture and thus open new themes which have been little widespread up to now.





In the beginning of the 20th century, a debate arises in Sweden on funeral habits. Lewerentz plays a central role in the discussion as he reflects on the way cemeteries are built and on reinventing rituals related to burial and cremation.

Due to the huge increase in population in Sweden, the development of agricultural mechanization in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the lack of space for burials becomes a more urgent issue. At the same time, the existing cemeteries, still medieval in their layout, are becoming increasingly overcrowded. Therefore, the need to reconsider cremation becomes crucial as this practice, unlike what happens in southern Catholic European countries, has been present in Scandinavia since the Bronze Age. [Sociological and legal data on religions in Europe. (Retrieved 12 Aug. 2013).

Cremation, established in Germany and England at the end of the 19thc is seen as advantageous when compared to burial. The saving in terms of space and the issues of hygiene are enough to reassure citizens unhappy with the related ethical issues. On the contrary, in Italy, the Catholic Church does not allow the controversy to arise. [Claes Dymling, 1997.]


The first step to create a new model for cemeteries and consolidate the existing ones is to devise new regulations. In 1914, a new ruling is made mandatory: those graves that do not meet the requirements are redesigned or changed under the supervision of a committee. From here onwards, committees are created for each cemetery, whose authority was similar to that of local authorities in a city.

The debate raises psychological and cultural issues. The revision process is viewed by the public as an aesthetic issue or even as governmental pressure. [Claes Dymling, 1997.]





On 28 June 1912, the Municipality of Stockholm added about 75 ha to Enskede cemetery in the outskirts of the city.

The 75 ha to extend the cemetery include a gravel quarry, two side roads and is surrounded by a pine forest (it is a wide forest clearing). In the autumn of 1914, for the first time in the history of Sweden, an international contest was launched for this work. Fifty-three proposals are submitted to the building of Enskede Cemetery, most of which by teams of Swedish and German architects.

The proposal should follow the rules of funeral customs in place and could not alter the natural conditions of the location or its limits and the quarry.


“Tallum”, by architects Asplund and Lewerentz is the winning proposal. Lewerentz e Asplund start talking about what would become the winning proposal in the 1914 Malmo exhibition, where the Helsingborg crematorium chapel is shown,



Proposal for the Woodland Cemetery, 1915. 


The cemetery is designed in a three-street grid that organizes and establishes space hierarchy The main streets are north to south and link the several entrances open to car traffic. These dirt track streets with pavement on the side are at a level below that of the graveyard, as is the whole perimeter. This way, a certain privacy is kept of the graves. Other streets are east to west and intersect with narrower streets connecting the burial sites.

To reference the different areas of the cemetery and make the several chapels and outbuildings visible, several clearings have been created in the main streets. The most important chapel is located at the top, to the northeast, and may house up to 400 people. The crematoriums are located under the chapel.

 The place consists mostly of pine tree forest, surrounded by birches and oaks. 

Two major events mark the cemetery: at the entrance the "weeping tomb" and, in the south, the Resurrection Chapel, both evoking the spirit of the project, the concept of resurrection.


Once Asplund had completed the design of the small chapel at Woodland, in 1920, it is Lewerentz's turn to design the chapel at the southern end of the cemetery. Between June and September 1921, Lewerentz presents three versions of the chapel where he puts forth the option of the scaffold (without the traditional altar), in a structure strictly devote to cremation.

In the initial drafts, the chapel proposes a completely different idea of the ritual: the procession enters through one of the chapel's facades and leaves through the opposite facade, thus emphasizing the idea of path, of passage. In June 1922, a new version is proposed where you can see the chapel in axis with the north-south path and a welcoming area at the entrance. In September that year, the chapel is repositioned to east-west, following the instructions in the liturgy. This final proposal is accepted.  


The Woodland Cemetery, charcoal drawing on photography. 





The building can only be understood if viewed as the penultimate in a series of events that start in the northern entrance to the cemetery. The proposal leads to a set including different and separate elements. Entrance through two parallel walls, 33 meters long, a chapel, an access gate to a separate chapel, a semi-circular waiting room and building for coffin storage with a gate are all arranged taking into consideration the conditions of the location. This way, contrast with the landscape is conducted at a larger scale.

For the design of the building itself several references are made to classical canon and to numerical systems such as the golden rule. The use of classical language is in tune with the work of most architects at the time; yet, Lewerentz introduces his ideas and greater austerity of form.

When describing the project, Lewerentz provides no details on the thought process underlying his choices. Lewerentz states that:


"The work on the building started in 1923 and finished in December 1925. The building was constructed using brick and concrete walls and details in plaster. The separate gate at the entrance of the Chapel is built in limestone from "Ignaberga". White marble was used on the floor and door stave. The inner walls, including those of the gate, were covered in stucco or lime, the surface thus having a matte, hard and fine finishing. The outer plastered walls were painted will oil-based paint and the inner plastered walls with wax-based paint. Complex details, such as capitals, bases, etc. were made of plaster. The building's outer colouring was made using a water-based solution of iron vitriol, lime, dextrin and pigment.

 The chapel is partly heated by independent radiators and partly through a system of canals in the bricks heating the floor. Due to this canal system, the finishing in the pavement is as thin as possible, using stone tiles.

To avoid the noise of cars during speeches and singing, a layer of cloth and cotton was added to the chapel's roof. The main contractor was taskmaster Gustaf Nicklasson. The stone work was conducted by AB Ignaberga Kaltksten and sculptor P.A. Palm.” [Janne Ahlin, 1987. (my trans.)] 


View of the chapel's entrance gate. 


The position of the chapel arises from the main axis of the cemetery, called "The Path of the Seven Wells". The gate has Corinthian columns and can be seen from the beginning of the path. Once you go through the entrance, you are quickly led east, where you can find the canopy and the scaffold and to where the chairs are facing.  


Blueprint, 1923. 


Here lies the riddle of the project, i.e., the unconventional orienteering of the temple changes the way people experience the space. The ritual, from the procession with the mortal remains along the "Path of the Seven Wells" up to its burial or cremation, is thus reinvented as well. The faithful, who have walked from the cemetery to the chapel's entrance, are waiting at the gate on the northern facade, from where they are led to the inside of the chapel. There they turn their attention east and attend the ceremony until, at the end of the ritual, they leave through the opposite side, where the body is taken away. After leaving the chapel, you are directed towards a stairway which leads to the ground, where the pathway ends. 


View from the inside of the chapel. 


  Lewerentz's obsession for detail is, in itself, revealing of his production.

Firstly, there is a tension between the inner and outer proportions: the span in the northern facade belongs to the inner universe, the span in the west is in accordance to the size of the facade it is part of. The different sizes only meet at the gate. Simultaneously, the design is rather free. If you look the inside of the chapel more attentively, you realize that the position of the piers on one side does not directly correspond to the position of the piers on the opposite side.

Next, the roof covering is rather light and appears not to touch the walls because they are recessed and the covering is thinner and thinner. Lewerentz clearly separates all the elements: the roof is only a protective layer, a door or window span is completely independent of the wall where it is located. The objects necessary to religious practice, such as chairs and the canopy and the scaffold are completely independent architecture elements.

The floor, covered in grey marble tiles, is not only an apparent geometric plan, it is slightly wavy and appears to move under the feet of its visitors. These small details provide clues to understanding all of Lewerentz's work and its ambiguity stimulates those inside the chapel. 


Section, 1923. 





In Sweden, the Protestant Church takes advantage of the post-war period, after WWII, to review its priorities and become established in its communities. For architects, this is seen as an opportunity to explore new types of religious buildings and consider the most adequate for Lutheran religious rituals.

In 1938, Rudolf Schwartz writes “Vom bau der Kirche”, “The Church Incarnate”, in the English version, in which he reinvents the way of building Christian churches in the 20th century. This book influences heavily German and Scandinavian architects and, consequently, Lewerentz. Schwartz declares that:


"This is our task then: to build churches based on our daily experiences. (...) Renew old teachings in regards to religion, attempting to recognize the body, even if real for us today, as creature and as revelation, and attempting to present it as such; reestablish the body in its dignity and do our work well so that this body may prove to be the "sacred body". And besides all this, we anticipate the repetition of old words, when for us no living content is related to them." [Rudolf Schwartz, 1958 (my transl.)]


A return to the origins of Christianity, both in the reinterpretation of rituals and in the constructive and formal simplicity of new churches, is common to almost all religious currents in northern Europe.

While this debate is taking place, as the main Swedish cities expand, new perimeter areas are built and, as a consequence, new parishes are formed in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The opportunities arise for the small projects to be designed of parish churches in the new suburbs.




Bjorkhagen, in the outskirts of Stockholm, is a new suburb of the 1930s. In 1957, the parish is divided into two parishes: Farsta and Skarpnäck. The government decides to create a committee responsible for a contest to build two parish churches.

Architects Sven Markelius, Ragnar Hjort and Lennard Uhlin are members of that committee and Peter Celsing, Ture Ryberg, Georg Varhelyi, Hans Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz are invited to submit proposals.

Among the five proposals submitted, one calls the attention of the jury because of its care in interior design and because it presents contradictions typical of an unfinished work. The proposal is entitled ‘Interlude’, and is by Sigurd Lewerentz, who respects the environment unlike the other proposals. This is the chosen proposal though the decision was not unanimous. [Janne Ahlin, 1987]


The location chosen for the church and the parish social centre is a wood with white birch trees. The surrounding buildings are very different: there's a train station, a serious of houses, a school and an apartment building, which requires a specific approach to the church in relation to its context. The church and the centre are at a level below the other buildings.


"The impression you get is that the building was dug up and is below its original level. The surrounding buildings are at the most recent level. There are also trees scattered among the dug up area. The church becomes the centre, the oldest element of the place." [Stefan Alenius, pp. 42-51. (my transl.)]


 The marshy land is the lowest area of an old shallow pond after which the place is named “Lillsjön” (little pond). The place requires preparation by means of a pile system before the church and centre can be built. 


Layout plan, 1959. 





The two buildings are create a yard. The most eastern, a long building, is where the administration, the activity rooms for young people and tower bell are located. The western building is L-shaped and includes the parish rooms and the church at a higher level.

The rectangular nave is traditionally to east and its design includes some irregularities: the vestry is curved and in the north, the wall separating the nave and the meeting room is to the west and the deformation to the southeast. The facade, vertical and volumetric, suggest the wood. The darkness of the bricks and the joints in a lighter tone are similar to the trunks of the birch trees.

In this project, Lewerentz uses geometry as a work tool but not as representation, i.e., those who observe the building do not realize its composition.

As is typical of the architect, the building is described in a very straightforward way, emphasizing the material qualities and the way the project approaches the landscape.



Blueprint, May1957. 


"The closeness of the building to Nacka reservation was achieved through deforestation east to west starting in the churchyard. The landscape behind the square, the pathways and the parking lot are left as is. Only on the way down to Malmövågen will there be grass. The building facades are to be of red brick, which will contrast with the whiteness of the birches. The interior of the church and the parish centre, as well as the church vaulted roof with concrete beams, are built with the same brick. Flooring and details on the interior of the church are made with lime, brick and wood. The sunlight enters the church through its windows and doors. The ceiling of the parish hall is of a lighter material, supported underneath or by beams of concrete. The stage curtain is made of red and golden velvet. Double walls were built between the church and the parish hall for sound insulation. The studies for the church interior are next." [Janne Ahlin, 1987 (my transl.)]


The main material, both in the interior and the exterior, is a dark 11x24x6 Helsingborg brick whose colour varies from red to gray. The mortar used in the construction is rather strong and variable in size so that the bricks function more as inert material in a structure than piled units. During the construction, Lewerentz decides not to plaster the walls.

Besides brick, the materials used in the construction are just a few: Höganas tile, light concrete in the roof of the parish hall and the building of the administration, laminated pine in the beams, plywood in doors and copper in the roof covering. Hardly any painting.

The church roof includes flat vaults made of brick and L-shaped steel beams. Lewerentz's design is inspired in the ship's hull. The lintels are also made of brick pieces strengthened at the tip with metal hoops and therefore in harmony with other construction elements.

The windows frame the surrounding landscape and, for the first time, windows without metal frames are used. 


View of the church entrance. 





In 1960, in the small industrial community of Klippan, in the Scania province, a new minister is appointed and the possibility of building a new parish church arises. Until then, the congregation has used auditoriums, assembly rooms and the chapel of the local cemetery for their religious celebrations and events related to the parish.

Once a committee has been created, the Building Department is asked to propose the name of an architect to build the church and Sigurd Lewerentz, who is seventy-seven at that time, is considered a possibility. The committee is sceptical of Lewerentz because of the architect's age and the difficulty in understanding his projects. However, and since the Building Department insists on his name, the decision is made to commission the project to him.

The first visit to the location takes place in the Spring of 1963 and, a short time later, the first drawings with proposals arrive.

The place chosen for the location of the church and parish centre is an urban park on the western tip of Klippan, where two of the busiest streets of the city meet. Initially, the buildings are to be constructed deeper into the park, but Lewerentz, as he had done with St Mark's Church, places the buildings at a level lower than that of the street so that it is the entrance to the park. The building, because of its position, has a core role in Klippan and meets the demands of the Lutheran Church, its missionary spirit and closeness to the community. At the same time, the parish centre is more reserved and is tucked away from the streets. You can never see the whole complex.

The construction work quickly starts based on drafts with the exact measurements and positions of the buildings. Sigurd Lewerentz is committed to the hospital in Lund as a result of exhaustion deriving from project work.

Before the construction begins, a land reconfiguration is carried out, and more trees and bushes are planted so as to emphasize the vertical dimension of the existing forest.

As it had occurred in St Mark's Church, there was cohesion among the several builders. After leaving the hospital, Lewerentz becomes highly involved in the construction, unlike what had happened with other works. With Sjoholm, the taskmaster, the architect verifies every detail four days a week until the day of its inauguration. Lars Ridderstedt, a consultant, is involved with the religious aspects of the building. 

The church is consecrated in November 1966. 


Study of St Peter's Church, July 1962. 





The organization of the complex is based on a scheme that distributes the church and the other buildings along a pathway. Two of the buildings will host weddings, baptisms, communions, confirmations and child support unit.

As traditional in the Scania region, the two buildings are joined at an angle and serve as wind fence. Offices, confirmation room and parish hall are also located in these buildings. The church itself is an independent building on the lee side. To the church building are added two adjacent buildings housing the sacristy and a lobby. No element is above street level, the visitor must go down to reach the sanctuary's main entrance. Even the bell tower, which is usually the highest structure in the temple, is kept rather low, as if a tower whose construction is not finished.

The architect bases his work on geometrical rules mas whenever he feels his vision is being lost, he simply follows his intuition. The visual issues are rather important for Lewerentz and the work is mostly conducted resolving issues during the construction.

Based on the work regarding religious issues, previously conducted in the project for the Johannesberg Church in 1933, Lewerentz organizes the church in a circle, unlike the usual unidirectional layout used in St. Mark's Church. This principle is described by Rudolf Schwartz under the name circumstants and consists of a layout around the altar in a rather informal way, emphasizing the meeting and the core Lutheran principles of honesty and sharing. 


Blueprint of the church with floor layout, April 1958. 


The use of brick is subject to the crucial rules. 2 by 24 by 6.5 cm Helsingborg bricks are used and, for some details in the floor, 5.5 by 42 by 6.5 cm bricks are used. No element is cut and no special piece is added. Similarly, all floor components, whether made of brick or of Hoganas tiles, are kept in their original size.

The only possible way to make this possible is through a very free relation between brick and the mortar used for the joints. Several experiments are carried out and the decision is made to use a Hardeberga- slate-based mortar.

 The interior and exterior church walls have the same type of composition and all heating and ventilation equipment is incorporated in the walls. The only noise is that of the drops of water falling on the large shell on an iron structure over a crack on the floor.

In the church, the light is filtered by small four windows, two in the west and two in the south, whose appearance is that of holes in the 70cm-thick walls. The glass is placed on the exterior and is attached to metal elements and sealed directly on the brick wall. Seen from the park, the windows are like photos at an exhibition because they reflect the surrounding landscape. The light in the sacristy and the lobby enters through openings in the ceiling.

The church roof is made of twelve brick vaults between steel L-shaped beams supported by two double, stronger beams. The weight is distributed through the brick walls and, in the middle, through a cross-shaped pillar. Unlike St Mark's church, the ceiling layout is in the direction of the altar.

The church floor consists of two planes, slightly at a slope, that meet in the horizontal surface of the altar. The floor design defines the placing of the furniture. Starting from the altar and clockwise you can find the location for the priest, the pulpit, the organ, the choir, the baptismal font, the congregation and the places for the clergy. 


Interior of the church. 



Sven Markelius, editor of the magazine Byggmasteren, writes the following on the Resurrection Chapel after its completion: "... the building should survive to the day its classic ornaments cannot capture our interest.”[Janne Ahlin, 1987] Though assuming a classic appearance, Sigurd Lewerentz challenges the demands of layout and attains an unprecedented freedom. Language is almost disguised by the laconic discourse. The project becomes a decisive element in how the architect defines his work path, perhaps in the search for an appropriate mode of expression.

Yet, by abandoning a conventional system to attain a trait of empiricism, Sigurd Lewerentz is able to clearly define his artistic beliefs. As he had done in his last two churches, Lewerentz continues the work he did in the Resurrection Chapel, reinventing the religious rites with the coordination between the building and the landscape; this time, though, he adopted a new lexicon, the issues of material and construction are completely reinvented as well, making the message even more evident. Using common material like brick, Lewerentz creates a new an unexpected reality. St Mark's and St Peter's church are the culmination of a life spent in search of language that expresses the architect's beliefs.

"Architecture arouses different sensations in humans. The architect's task is to define those sensations. A room should be cozy, a house should be livable. The courthouse should have the appearance of strictness to the potential criminal. The bank should say: in here, honest people will manage your money is a safe and prudent way." [Adolf Loos, 1900-1930. (my trans.)]


There is a precision in Sigurd Lewerentz's work that goes beyond physical presence. There is a concern to arouse sensations that meet the building's purpose. In Klippan, we observe the process in the architect's mind. Janne Ahlin states the following on St Peter's Church: "The mystery of the building rests on the discrepancy between its apparent straightforwardness and its true subtlety" [Janne Ahlin, 1987]


In an attempt to disclose the mystery involving Sigurd Lewerentz's architecture, three core elements are analysed that are present in the three case studies described: shape, construction and ambiance. An analogy is made between these elements of Lewerentz's architecture and other works in wider areas such as music, sculpture and painting. Thus, clues are provided to the understanding of Sigurd Lewerentz's work leading to possible future interpretation.



In the buildings analysed previously there is the concern to assign meaning to the relation between the building and its surroundings. The concept of space-time is introduced through associating a building to a pathway and integrating the need of a specific program and the specificities of a location.

 In the complex of the Resurrection Chapel, the building is the end point. In St Mark's Church, the building is part of the pathway along the wood. St Peter's Church is the entrance gate to a park. Both the layout and the shape of the building is geometric but, at the same time that composing strictness is imposed, there is much freedom in the design of the buildings as the needs arise.

In architecture, assigning a shape is the result of a process that gathers the conditions necessary to meet our first needs [Quintus Miller, 2008 (my transl.)]  Urban planning and architecture are an image of our lifestyle. The formal composition should adapt to how you live in a building and often that is the factor that leads to exception being introduced and confronts us with our own existence.


Similarly to what occurs in architecture, the composing strictness creates the motto for variation. The opportunity for exception arises from the strict rules of music composition. The mistake itself provides a sense of strictness in the piece of art.

The work of Igor Stravinsky, a contemporary of Sigurd Lewerentz, is an example of this type of action. The composer is in the transition from a neoclassical period and begins to use serial composition techniques such as the twelve-tone technique. By using Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, Stravinsky decreases even more the possibilities of composition without rules and is able to include the variation more clearly. The idea of interval between notes is valued and introduces the idea of gap. Stravinsky states that: "The higher the restrictions, the more freedom is achieved. It's the arbitrariness of the restriction serves only to attain precision in execution.”[Igor Stravinsky 1939-40. (my trans.)] Freedom is only achieved when based on something more consistent. The need to impose restrictions is a feature common to art in general.



The choice of material for a building is inseparable from its construction. In his work, Sigurd Lewerentz clarifies which materials he wants to use and how. The construction elements and the materials are limited, as we can see in the Resurrection Chapel with the separation of the components. The architect communicates only the necessary.

Lewerentz searches both the expressiveness of a specific material or construction method and shows the result of an extensive study on their potential. Each element describes the formal and technical analysis on its production. Lewerentz aims to practice an architecture that does not depend on language but whose physical presence has a direct emotional effect on humans.

Each choice of material or construction method has its social and cultural implications and recalls other types of construction or situation. Tradition and innovation in construction are placed side by side.

Brick is used in the two last churches at Bjorkhagen and Klippan not because of its formal potential or its modular condition, as is evidenced by the way the material is used. The use of brick with rather variable mortar joint, the material becomes more of a bonding agent than a modulation and assembling element. This way, new potential of the material are key to the development of the project.


Some pieces by American artist Richard Serra evidence that specificity of the material and its production process. By working with common materials, such as steel and lead, the artist deepens the relation between the viewer, the place and the material itself: by observing a work, the viewer associates the material to a specific context (he knows) and understand how the piece was produced.

In 1969, the artist produces a series of pieces made with lead molten where the wall meets the floor. The work entitled “Gutter Corner Splash” shows those pieces where they were manufactured, showing their origin and reinventing their use. Serra aims to emphasize how art confronts its viewer.

Construction, or its result, derives from a mental process. Showing that process naturally arouses some type of association and communicates more clearly a specific concept. The moment the concept and the construction become unexpected architecture attains its perfection, in integrating thinking and doing. 


“Gutter Corner Splash” on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA. 




The temperature, the sound and the light significantly define the character of the previously analysed buildings. The ambiance that defines the identity of a space is perhaps the feature of Lewerentz's buildings that is the hardest to be analysed. It is not easy to identify what touches us in Lewerentz's work and in how you can project that experience.

The architect Peter Zumthor states the following on this theme: "Ambiance communicates our emotional perception, i.e., the perception that works instinctively, which humans have to survive.  (…) Immediate understanding, immediate connection, immediate refusal.”[Peter Zumthor, 2006] This is how we are marked by a specific ambiance in an instinctive and immediate way.

In Sigurd Lewerentz's work, the ambiance is directly related to the landscape. The landscape, the idea that there is a reality that is simultaneously a static and distant event and a sensory perception, something you can touch, a presence you can feel when you enter each of three churches. Here, architecture functions solely as an intermediary between humans and nature, capturing the essence of both worlds. The sacred space is really on the outside, the inside is nothing more than an attentive viewer.


The work of Caspar David Friedrich talks about this relation between humans and nature and results in an almost supernatural link. His 1809 work, “The Monk by the Sea”, represents the minimal presence of the monk in contrast with the vastness of nature. In his work, humans are not represented in nature but before it, the landscape acquires an almost divine nature.

Because it communicates with perception, the ability that an image or building has to arouse a sensation, it evidences the author's own perception and identity. For this type of architecture that derives from the awareness of the emotional character of buildings, the concern is effect rather than appearance.  


 “Monk by the Sea” de Casper David Friedrich.



Sigurd Lewerentz leaves behind a significant number of religious buildings that are a testimony of his presence and of his perspective. Unlike most architects who were his contemporary and left significant written work, Lewerentz has left few descriptions and texts on his buildings. The construction is, in itself, the result of his mental process.

From the Chapel of Resurrection - where, though classic language is used it, its tone is rather uncertain - to the parish churches of St Mark's and St Peter's, in which there appears coherence between the mode of expression and the message conveyed, Lewerentz revolutionizes the way sacred buildings are thought about and built.


Religious architecture, in the context of modern European architecture, is rather peripheral. The issues regarding the construction of religious buildings in the 20th century are not necessarily the same as those of general architecture and few architects taken on a position on this theme. [Nuno Teotónio Pereira, 1996]

Though there are exceptions, the difficulty to take on a language that is appropriate to the demands of today is common to most present societies. The memory and the attachment to programs and forms of buildings of past styles speak louder and, in most cases, do not even provide new buildings to assume as such.


Sigurd Lewerentz's legacy provides several answers to the issues inherent to building a temple.  The last two cases, because of their lasting quality, allow for the reinvention of religious architecture.

The clues revealed by means of the analysis of Lewerentz's work are to be starting points to new interpretation.




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João Ortigão Ramos


João Ortigão Ramos holds a Master's Degree awarded by Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa (2013). In 2012 he participates in the exhibition and publication MAD’12 – Mostra sull’ attività didattica” at Academia di Architettura di Mendrisio. In 2013 he is a speaker at the seminar “Prática versus Ensino” (Practice vs. Teaching) at DA/UAL. He currently works at the architecture office Aires Mateus and associates.