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Thursday24 July 2014

Årsta Church, Stockholm, by Johan Celsing Arkitektkontor

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Architect Johan Celsing Arkitektkontor
Location Stockholm
Completed 2011

On a rocky site overlooking a post-war suburb of Stockholm, architect Johan Celsing has built a Lutheran church that appears at once self-effacing in its stripped-down plainness and remarkable for its spatial richness.

The church adjoins a bell tower from 1952 and parish hall from 1968, and shares enough common elements with the existing buildings to form a coherent ensemble while not losing the sense that the new building is the central focus of the composition.

The lower sections of the new building line through with the old, and both use red-brown brick construction and similarly proportioned windows. But careful detailing and a remarkable interior distinguish the church from its suburban neighbours.

A new entrance has been created at the junction of the old and new buildings, with a hall space formed from elements taken from both. Turning left, one passes through a low lobby into the main space of the church, an almost cubic volume with a 13sq m plan and 10m height, whose proportions and moveable bench seating are inspired by the idea of a standing congregation in an Orthodox church.

The brickwork flooring continues through from the exterior and above stands a tri-partite construction: glazed white bricks at low level incorporating perimeter seating and relatively small windows, a central band of cheaper bricks over which multiple layers of lime-wash have been applied, and an in-situ concrete roof whose deep, irregularly aligned beams lend a complexity to the simple ordering below.

Celsing’s office had started the designs thinking that the main light sources to the church would be from either roof-lights or concealed sources, and made numerous developmental models. But these options were rejected and the eventual solution of very large, high-level windows set within the lime-washed brick walling lend the space a sense of calm decorum that does not detract from the activities and rituals of the church workings.

In addition, their vertical proportions are similar to those of the neighbouring parish hall, providing a scaled-up elevational rhyme that does much to unite the buildings despite their differing ages and functions.

Though the final solution for natural lighting and the arrangement of the windows is simple, the detailing of the larger openings creates a subtle refinement to the light quality. The external walls are built of load-bearing, cavity wall brickwork that at 88cm thick lends a massive quality to the masonry.

The window frames have been set close to the outside face of the reveal but, rather than choosing to expose the depth of the wall construction, Celsing has allowed the inner face of brickwork at one brick’s thickness to continue past the return, creating a niche to either side of the glazing and a thin, screen-like quality to the inside face of the wall. The effect is remarkable, simultaneously providing a luminous quality to the light as it is held within these interstitial spaces and distinguishing the high-level windows from those below; the low-level openings allowing a personal engagement as one sits with their depth on the perimeter seating while the larger openings, like a James Turrell piece, re-frame the heavens above.

PROJECT TEAM

Architect Johan Celsing Arkitektkontor
Client The Church of Sweden, Enskede-Årsta Parish
Building contractor M3 Bygg

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