AD Classics: St. John’s Abbey Church / Marcel Breuer

Photo by janmikeuy –

Saint John’s Abbey Church was designed by the renowned Hungarian architect . This cast-in-place concrete marvel is a stepping-stone in modern design of religious architecture in the United States. One must admire the great concrete trees that support the ceiling and the dominant bell banner that shields the church. More after the break.

In 1950, Abbot Baldwin Dworschak made an audacious decision resulting in what art historians have called a milestone in the evolution of the architecture of the Catholic Church in this country. He contacted twelve exalted architects, among them was Marcel Breuer. Abbot Baldwin asked the architects to submit a building design for the second century of Saint John’s. As part of his stipulations, Abbot Baldwin required a design for “building a church which will be truly an architectural monument to the service of God…The Benedictine tradition at its best challenges us to think boldly and to cast our ideals in forms which will be valid for centuries to come.”

Photo by Johnny Clark –

The plan aims at a clear division between the monastic living quarters and the educational facilities. The two are connected by the important structures they both share; the church, auditorium, library, and administration building.

Photo by rburtzel –

The church and its bell banner are the dominant structures of St. John’s. The main floor plan reflects the basic liturgical concepts of the Order. One enters the symbolic center doorway, down the center aisle to the altar and abbot’s throne, around which is placed the very large choir. The relation of the abbot’s throne and monks’ choir to the congregation defines the shape of the plan with the altar near the center of the church in plain view of congregation, choir, and large balcony.

Architect: Marcel Breuer
Location: Collegeville,
Project Year: 1961
References: Minnesota Public Radio
Photographs: Flickr user: rburzel, Flickr user: Johnny Clark, Flickr user: janmikeuy, Flickr user: ya3hs3

Cite: Pagnotta, Brian. "AD Classics: St. John’s Abbey Church / Marcel Breuer" 23 Jul 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 May 2015. <>