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New Våler Church by Space Group Architects

Våler Church Space Group

Project: New Våler Church
Designed by Space Group Architects
Client: Valer Church Parish, Competition
Location: Hedmark, Norway
Competition entry for the new New Våler Church design coming from Space Group Architects, for more images and architects description continue after the jump:

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From the Architects:

The new church is an opportunity to rebuild, restructure, and modernise the community, whilst memorialising the past. The new church becomes a memorial of the old church, with the charred wooden structure growing up out of the landscape. The symbol of fire has a long tradition in Christianity. It dates all the way back to the Book of Exodus (3:1-21), which describes the burning bush on Mount Sinai that became the home of St. Catherine’s Monastery in the 4th Century. To this day the Eternal Light – a permanent flame in a sanctuary lamp – indicates the permanent presence of Christ.

The powerful image of the burning church provides the catalyst for the concept. It unites two obvious elements: Fire – the cause and creator of the project – and wood – a homage to the forest districts and the traditional local construction methods that are still in use throughout the country. A wonderful example for this is the Gol Stvae Church in Oslo which has survived from the 12th century. 

The church sits set back in the landscape, to the east, away from the main road, amongst a picturesque green belt of birch trees. The existing mini-forests to the North and East are bridged by extensive greening inbetween. Additional planting to the South forms an enclosure around the site. Wood and the new plants form an integral element to this scheme. Constricted by the graves and driven by the area required, the proposal utilizes the site to the east, which enables a procession-like approach for pedestrians and car users. Whether by public transport, car or foot one is lead through the ruins of the old church – a memorial to the past. From there a path leads past the graves, down the steps, ramps or lift that descend down to the new church. The approach is a means of transition from everyday hectic life to the spirituality, peace and sanctuary of the new church.

The existing communal hall is of limited value and has been removed and re-integrated as part of the proposal, bringing the community spaces closer to the place of worship. The location of the new church and the additional infrastructure has no impact on the existing graves. They line the way towards the church and form an integral part of the spiritual journey.

The vision for the church stems from a pile of charred logs, rising from the ground towards heaven – The new church appears not to exist; it merges with the existing landscape, only revealing a glass cross high above the canopy of the trees.

Exterior. The external envelope of the church de-materializes itself down to the bare charred wooden structure – like a burned church frozen in time. The reflective stainless steel cladding in-between the structure mirrors the surrounding landscape. This de-materializing effect emphasises the erratic, black structural system and reflects the surrounding trees and the sky, which integrates the volume into the landscape.

Interior. The interior follows a similar principle: The charred, random structure is exposed with recessed acoustic surfaces inbetween. These are covered in a monochrome gradient fabric. The organ and the choir are allocated to either side of the altar and become a visible feature within the space. The altar itself appears to be a solid acrylic block. It is dark at the bottom which transcends into clear transparency towards the top. The black wooden church benches are not dissimilar from traditional ones but come with the benefit of small integral LCD screens which can display an agenda, the current phrase of a song that is being sung or information about the church. All upholstery is of a lively mix of yellows, oranges and reds in order to liven up the space but also to be coherent with the subject of the fire.

Light. A dramatic light slot is the only source of light – naturally during the day and artificially illuminated in the evening. Its peak culminates right above the altar in the shape of a glazed cross. Despite the pointiness of the church the light slot gets wider towards heaven. The achieved quality of light becomes a religious symbol in itself.

Acoustic. Special acoustic panels fill out the areas between the wooden structure. The soft panels are clad in a fabric that is bright in the unlit areas of the church and dark around the glass slot. This is in order to emphasize the crisp light quality penetrating the envelope.

The Ring. The church is surrounded by a ring road – a generous but intimate communal space below ground level. Its width varies in accordance with its adjacent purpose: Narrow at the back where one can find the more private vestry, wider on both sides where the community and casket showrooms are allocated and open and wide towards the front providing a welcoming plaza for crowds to gather.

When standing in front of the church one can chose between two directions: Alpha and Omega – ‘the beginning and the end’ (21:6, 22:13).

Alpha. The Northern half represents the beginning. It is here where one is welcomed, baptism takes place and all communal functions are happening. The rooms are bright and filled with light; they are fully glazed towards the ring road and the community room benefits from a large skylight which is carved into the green roof above. Each of these visible spaces has artefacts against the back wall in order to make them permanently visible and to give the individual rooms an identity.

Omega. The Southern half is the opposite: It is here where the community can mourn their dead. Store rooms and WCs are also allocated here. The rooms are enclosed by opaque stone walls towards the ring road. The stones used are the same local ones that currently provide boundary walls around the site. The casket showroom is positioned away from the lively areas and has a quiet courtyard carved into the landscape. This intimate external space enables natural light into the room and is connected to a calming water bed. All materials used are integral to the landscape or made of glass in order to deny their existence.

Paths. The car park, the road crossing, the walkway through the ruins of the old church and all other existing paths are benefitting from a re-landscaping. The paths are relined with granite cobble stones, whilst all balustrades are made of glass. There is the occasional charred timber bench to rest and the car park profits from new planting as well. Trees. The new building is surrounded by additional trees in order to complete this natural framework. The new trees to the North-East are of particular importance in order to connect the two forests.

Green roofs. All ancillary rooms are ‘carved’ into the landscape. They sit fully underground and look out at the church. Their roofs are densely planted to merge the building with the surrounding landscape.

Water feature. A water bed to the right of the staircase opposite the disabled access ramp offers symmetry to the entrance. The water descents down a slope into a bed allocated to the casket showroom’s courtyard. It is here where one can find the old altar of Mariakirken ‘floating’ above the water surface.

Walled Garden. A more private garden has been introduced just North of the church. It is here where wedding ceremonies can be held in the open air or groups of children can gather to learn and play.

Secret Walk. A new path to the South of the church leads into the extended forest. This quiet walk offers the prospect for discussions, prayers and reflection. Benches offer opportunities to rest and read.

Sustainability. Due to the building’s integration into the landscape unwanted heat gains and losses are mitigated. The number of windows and skylights has been limited and those required have been carefully positioned. The remaining walls are heavily insulated. All wood and stone is to be sourced locally. A ventilation and heat recovery system is to be implemented. The amount of new greenery will enhance to the local bio-diversity.

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