Modern church design

Studio Fuksas, Chiesa San Giacomo, Foligno. Photo by Moreno Maggi.

What is a church, and what is a temple?

A temple is an architectural structure, designed for performing divine services and religious ceremonies. There are pagan, Jewish, Muslim, Christian temples. In Christianity, a temple is also called a church. The word church is a hose of God in Greek. The main feature of Christian churches is the presence of the altar, where there is an altar with embedded antimins —
a cover with relics of the saints, which allows for a complete cycle of divine services. Churches can be cathedral. A cathedral is a main church, where there is episcopal cathedra (a bishop’s throne), and where usually serves a bishop. Episcopal chair actually represents a single stair elevation, located in the cathedral of the temple — where the worshipers pray.

New churches

Some say, that many new churches are different from the older ones not the best way. Church architecture requires special training. Before designing a church, it is necessary to understand the structure of church, its historical, hierarchical, symbolical contents. Creativity, worked out through special cases when a man is touching the spiritual world, when image of a church has been revealed to him not in sensual and material, but in spiritual component. Such spiritual enlightenments laid in the basis for building church architecture. Some kind of a building norms and rules for churches were born. Spiritual norms and rules have been interwoven with material life in ancient times. For example, a raised threshold in the house and low doors opening inwards. On one hand — a possibility to open the door swept with snow, more wind isolation, and entrance with a bow to an icon is provided on to provide input with a bow icon on the other hand. A canon also includes the contents of ecclesiastical order and, remains constant in the present as a spiritual core.

Symbolic system of the temple — a constant canonical basis

Cross temples were created in Byzantine Empire after it adopted Christianity in the 4th century. This type of temples reflected an image of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church.
A dome of a church — a head on a cylindrical base (neck, drum) symbolizes the Old Testament Church, which consists of the upper — Angelic rank, and the lower — the Prophets and Fathers. Below there is a quadrangle, symbolizing the New Testament Church. Inside the temple, from the quadrangle to the pillars structural transitions — so called sails come down, which have the Evangelists depicted on them. The sails are put on four columns, which symbolize the four Gospels, the foundations of interpretation of Christianity. The inner part of the church quadrangle is covered with paintings of evangelical or Theotokos plots arranged in chronological order by the movement of the sun. Under these plots the pillars of the church are depicted — the celebrated honored saints. The lower row of icon paintings is towels — kneeling space for parishioners of the church, a symbol of repentance for people living in this world. Thus, the forthcoming eternal life is intertwined to the present in the construction of the temple, the whole church is built up in a conciliar hierarchical, it reflects the image of the Triumphant Church (heavenly) and Militant Church (of the earth — of the people living on Earth). The plan of the church is square — it symbolizes the Heavenly City, the humans’ arms of salvation — the cross. On the east side there is a three-part rounded apse, the place for the altar — a symbol of heaven on earth and the presence of the Holy Trinity. Gates are put on three sides of the church, just by the square plan — as a symbol of grace of the Holy Trinity distribution in the earthly world. The central entrance (the western) symbolizes the Royal way — the sacrifice for the humanity on one hand, and a way for salvation on the other. The crossing of the Royal way (central nave) and the axis of entrances from north to south (transept) forms the area to which the ambo is attached. There the Holy Communion and preaching is held. An architectural construction called the “sky” with dome and cross is arranged over this place. The altar is a sacred place, a prototype of heaven on earth. Usually a cross or a “head” with a cross is put over the brick vault, which covers the altar. Altar has three exits to the main volume of the church: the central — the royal Gates, the north one — the sacrificial Gates, and the south one — is the deacon Gates. Beautifully painted iconostasis of the altar is oriented to the world in the direction of the western part of the temple.


The lighting of a church can be external, from the street, and inner — from the candles. The central part of the temple is lightened by the windows in the main cylinder — “drum”. The inner lightning from the lamps and candles highlights the icons.


Floor is a symbol of the earth here, from which a man should rise to heaven. This is why floors have not been filled with ornaments, detracting from the meaning of priest. A clear reminder of the crosses on the floor is not permissible, because the cross should not be derided.

On the natural materials in the church

The question on the materials in the church is not easy. Wood, stone, brick, lime, sand and metal is used since ancient times. Uncomfortable climatic balance, inability scriptures frescoes on wet technique, the modified properties of acoustics, etc. occurs because of the concrete. The use of cement is also undesirable due to its incompatibility in abutment with mortar and red brick, and because of the inpossibility of “raw” frescoes application.
Non-humidified vault is more resistant to temperature changes, withstands the wandering dew point. The usage of modern materials on churches is often controversial, because of their interaction with the traditional building materials. But sometimes their use may offer benefits; this requires a careful scientific approach.


Article from Archmag “Faith”, issue #1/2015.