The task of designing a place of worship is a challenge that appears as simple and complex as the word of God: How does one create an emotional connection on the outside of a structure that will rival the one to be had on the inside? To be sure, there’s no easy answer. Which is why architects for millennia have attempted to create places of worship to not only house religious services, but also stand the test of time. Examples of these luminous structures include the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica, Notre-Dame in Paris, and Hagia Sophia in Turkey, to name a few. But what all these structures have in common is that they were conceived decades, if not centuries ago. What about those modern attempts to design places of worship for the people and posterity? While we’ll not know which of these newly erected walls will be lionized the same way St. Peter’s Basilica is today, we think the four structures below stand a very good chance.
Designed by the 2009 Pritzker Prize winner Peter Zumthor, Germany’s Bruder Klaus Field Chapel shows the powerful relationship between architecture alone among natural beauty. Completed in 2007, this strikingly modern chapel has become a popular destination, even for those who are not religiously inclined.
Inside of the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, the sinuous design was meant to mirror the fact that conclusions in life are not always a straight path. The Swiss-born architect purposely made the interiors a stark contrast to the smooth, angular exterior, with small holes behind the walls to create an effect reminiscent of the night sky.
Completed in 1998 by architect Mario Botta, the Cymbalista Synagogue looks like no other synagogue built before it. With a rectangular base greeting visitor, two matching towers rise above in poetic harmony. But the job of the towers isn’t merely decoration, it’s to catch and release natural light inside of the space. The sunlight hits the interior walls at such an angle to resemble the traditional Jewish wedding canopy, also known as the chuppah.
The back wall shows the Torah Ark and the onyx around it. In front is the auditorium of the Cymbalista Synagogue.
Completed in 2012, Turkey’s Sancaklar Mosque was designed by Emre Arolat. Winner of the Aga Khan Award and Mies van der Rohe Award, Arolat’s design was intended to create a stark divide between the chaotic outer world, and the calm one to be found within the mosque’s walls.
While the exterior of the Sancaklar Mosque blends with the surrounding topography, inside of the mosque, visitors enter a different world. This cavernous space becomes a dramatic setting to pray. The walls feature slits and fractures, enhancing the serene environment with bits of daylight filtering into the prayer hall.
When the Bahá'í Temple of South America opened in 2016, the surrounding landscape benefited from its addition. The building, designed by the Canadian firm Hariri Pontarini Architects, features an exterior that was inspired by Sufi whirling dancers (an ancient form of physically active meditation).
The Bahá'í Temple of South America, which took some 14 years to complete, allows for beautiful slivers of light to fall inside the space. The building was cast in nine identical torqued wings that come together at a central oculus.
This article was originally published on Architectural Digest