Text: Mario Haunhorst
Photos: Mario Haunhorst

05. Oct 2010

Three churches, three concepts

The interior and exterior illumination for places of worship is more than a purely technical challenge. The various ways a church space is used – for services, concerts or “only” to view works of art for free –mean that the lighting design needs to meet a wide range of requirements. Church services are the most important of all activities since churches are first and foremost places where people gather to worship and pray. Besides purely practical requirements there are a number of theoretical issues that also play a role. In spiritual und theological terms, the word “light” can be construed in a variety of ways.

At least since the gothic ages light has been an integral part of church architecture – and not only because of its mystical implications. Designing light in these spaces thus requires a careful balance of daylight and electric light. In specific parts of the church natural light is seen as being especially meaningful. Around the altar, for example, it is a key design element. Architectural historians and church historians often refer to the history of light as a conveyor of meaning in sacred places, thus defining the continuing significance of this idea in the history of sacred buildings. There are indeed many who regard designing lighting for or in sacred buildings as the ultimate discipline in the field. When it comes to the philosophy behind illuminating church spaces, opinions differ greatly, mentalities too, perhaps. On the one hand, there is the wish to emotionally enhance the space, to underline the religious experience the worshipper seeks – and with that the demand for symbols and forms of expression that give rise to mystical connotations, the mysterious, incomprehensible, hidden side of belief that maintains a clear distance to all things mundane. On the other hand, there is what one might term the Protestant approach, which tends more towards enlightenment and sanctification through deeds rather than words and refuses to acknowledge anything factitious or fraught with symbols designed to create mystery and atmosphere and accept nothing less than the most realistic form symbolism in places of worship, symbolism that is directly linked to our intuition, thus contributing to a ceremony and solemnity which requires no mystifying secondary motivations. Given this field of tension, sensitivity is called for in the communication between all those involved in the construction, or the lighting design of a church project. It is extremely seldom that a purely technical solution will suffice. When designing lighting for places of worship it helps – and sometimes it is even critical – to feel awe, and respect the aesthetics and authenticity of the church building. […]
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The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 73

Discussed concepts:
– St. Anna’s Church in Neuenkirchen/D
– The Church of Our Lady Bocholt/D
– St. Dionysius Church in Nordwalde/D

My opinion:

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