[Walter Förderer]

In the 1960s, Walter Maria Förderer designed eight churches in Switzerland and Germany. Influenced by Le Corbusier, and even more so by the collages of Kurt Schwitters and Gothic architecture, Förderer designed cascades of concrete blocks and strange totemic objects that now form some of Europe’s most avant-garde religious buildings.

Modern post-war churches arose out of a mixture of necessity – war-ravaged Europe had lost countless places of worship – and ecumenical reform. The Vatican II council of the early 1960s resulted in a wholesale revision of the ecclesiastical designer’s approach to the physical form and layout of churches, with the traditional cruciform layout abandoned in favour of placing the altar at the heart of the structure. Switzerland might not have suffered any major war damage, but the country’s Church was at the forefront of this modernising movement. From the late 1950s to the 1970s, the country built some of the most avant-garde churches in Europe.

Concrete was the material of choice. In fact, the ongoing Swiss penchant for béton brut has turned this most controversial of materials into something of a national device, continuously developed into the modern era by each new generation of architects. It helps, of course, that one of the most iconoclastic architects of the 20th century was Swiss, a man who dedicated his career to re-shaping the global perception of architectural form.

Förderer was also a published theorist, who used his treatises to expound upon the theory that a strictly functionalist approach resulted in inflexible and static architecture. Yet while his contemporaries seized upon the potential of ephemeral buildings constructed from industrial materials, scaffolding and other new technologies, Förderer was a concrete man through and through. His flexibility was to be achieved through scale, creating almost mega-structural complexes that could accommodate a variety of users.

Nowhere is this more evident than in his eight churches completed during the 1960s in Switzerland and Germany. The church centre at Hérémence, a small Swiss town nestled on a steeply sloping site, includes the church of St Nicholas, plus meeting rooms and accommodation. The complex resembles the hyper-dense three-dimensional assemblages created by Kurt Schwitters, rather than the flat, mannered abstraction of Le Corbusier’s purist paintings.

At Hérémence, the pulpit, cross and altar sprout from the floors and walls, with the jagged forms of the nave apparently defined by absence, as if carved from a vast block of poured concrete. Förderer worked with Otto and Zwimpfer on this darkly expressionistic project, but other works were done alone, including the churches at Bettlach and Lichtenstein.

Photography by: David Willen

Source: www.wallpaper.com