The design proposal by CEBRA for the New Church of Vaaler is based on the most widespread symbol for the Christian church: the cross. Located in the south eastern part of Norway, it is a strong visual symbol, which beautifully combines the horizontal with the vertical in its simplicity – and in its meaning the worldly with the heavenly. In the same way, the cross also represents the church’s fundamental function. More images and architects’ description after the break.
The village of Vaaler is in need of a new church in order to replace the village’s old wooden church, which burned down to the ground in 2009. The church is of great importance for the local community – both as a social gathering point and as characterizing landscape element. Therefore, the design of the new church has to combine a particular sensitivity and attention to the site’s culture-historical context with a modern architectural expression so as to succeed in creating flexible and contemporary church facilities.
When the cross shape is tilted and the church’s roof forms a sloping plane the motif becomes visible at eye level as well as from the air, creating the same image from both points of view. The building volume appears as a stairwell or a stairway to heaven – a pictorial metaphor that can be found in several passages in the Bible and stands as a synonym for spiritual cognition.
At the main arrival area – from the existing western parking lot – the church nestles between the birch grove in the east and the cemetery. Against the backdrop of the sky, the building manifests its verticality, while at the same time accentuating its horizontality in the meeting with the human scale at the bottom of the stairs.
The placement of the new church on the eastern part of site creates a coherent spatial relationship between the existing chapel and the burned-down church. At the same time, this location permits making optimal use of the church yard’s landscape by employing the existing pathways for the staging of the arrival to the new church. The footprint of the burned-down church is preserved as a mirror pool, thereby establishing a tangible link between the past and the present. In this way, the scene of the fire’s high symbolic value to the local community is incorporated in the planning and the pool’s strong visual presence will keep a lasting remembrance in the collective memory.
Light is a fundamental element in our proposal – both in the plan layout and the orientation of the church and as a spatial and atmospheric medium for artistic expression. The church is orientated in such a way that it uses light – internally as well as externally – for the staging of cultural and church events. The project incorporates a series of techniques such as prisms, camera obscure and peg mirror in the design process in order to capture and utilize the light for supporting the liturgical and ceremonial proceedings, thus creating an additional dimension of experience.
Norway’s long tradition for the usage of wood and woodcarvings in church architecture has been a significant source of inspiration for the design of the interior of the Vaaler church. Light and wood complement and stage one another, modelling the interior spaces in the same way that light gives depth to woodcarvings. The light makes the materials come alive and in return the interior reflects and colors the light in various ways through the application of reliefs and light wells.
The centrally placed wooden core acts as a lucid and open link between the horizontal spatiality of the church’s entrance square and the vertical experience of the main space itself – thus allowing the whole nave to be brought together in a single elegant formal language. Light and wood, heaven and earth, the vertical and the horizontal create in interaction with the overall design of the proposal the framework for ecclesiastic ceremonies and events for the community in and around the new church in Vaaler.