Across Europe, road churches are popular spots for travelers to rest, contemplate, or pray on their journeys. Germany is home to dozens of these chapels, known as autobahnkirche, and its neighbor to the southwest, Switzerland, will soon have a new addition to this network of roadside churches. Architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron has unveiled its design for a new chapel set on the A13, a major thoroughfare outside of the picturesque village of Andeer.
While the area is home to many historic—and often ornate—chapels, the firm wanted to create a forward-thinking building inspired by the landscape rather than a structure that looked to the past. “It is impossible to conjure the aura of old walls without resorting to kitsch,” Herzog & de Meuron said. While the building is a spiritual space, the architects also did not want the chapel to be filled with overt religious iconography, such as crosses or depictions of Christ, and opted for a minimalist approach to decoration.
As the location of the autobahnkirche was determined, the design began to take shape. “We were looking for architecture that would sharpen the perception of visitors—of the location, the natural environs, and even of the way they see themselves,” the firm said. They began with a white cube, but realized that might feel too closed off. The exterior was refined into an arrangement of four walls, which support each other at right angles. “The walls just lean against each other; they lean and support at the same time,” said the firm. “One of them stands upright. Almost like the wall of a choir.”
The intimate interior functions as a path, leading visitors in from the outside through a series of spaces and then back to the outdoors. A spiral staircase transports travelers to a series of three chapels. A round reading chapel is illuminated by daylight and another small chapel has a single skylight, a candle, and reflecting wall.
The largest space has a panoramic oval window that looks out onto the landscape and frames a large pane of red glass. The room nods to the early Christian and pagan sites that were discovered in nearby Zillis by archeologists. Once the 3,000-square-foot chapel is completed, visitors will be able to take a break from their journeys and travel on a shorter but equally impactful path.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest