A Journey into Europe's Most Provocative Brutalist Churches

Written by: Nauradika Of London



Time to read 5 min

In today's exploration of impactful architecture movements, we're journeying through the symmetrical world of New Formalism architecture. This style revolutionized modern aesthetics with its emphasis on order, symmetry, and grandeur. Although often viewed through the lens of American architectural history, New Formalism's influence and manifestations have crossed oceans and cultures, leaving an indelible mark on the global architectural landscape.

The Essence of New Formalism

New Formalism, which emerged prominently in the 1960s and 1970s, is characterized by its elegant and dramatic integration of modernist simplicity with classical grandiosity. This architectural style is renowned for its meticulous organization of space and an emphasis on the structural grid. Architects of New Formalism cherished creating single-volume structures, typically elevated from the natural ground on a podium, commanding respect and exuding openness simultaneously.

Iconic Examples of New Formalism

New Formalism boasts a rich collection of masterpieces that epitomize its style:

National Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Designed by Edward Durrell Stone, this building is a quintessential example of New Formalism. Its inviting grandiose portico and lush use of marble create a visual symphony that is both inviting and imperial.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Also designed by Stone, LACMA’s original buildings showcase hallmark features of New Formalism, including clear structural grids and elevated platforms, enveloped in a stark yet graceful modernist aesthetic.

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi

This embassy, designed by Edward Stone, signifies diplomatic elegance, marrying local building traditions with the formalism that the style is known for, bringing New Formalism beyond American soil.

New Formalism Beyond the United States

While New Formalism is predominantly an American phenomenon, its principles and aesthetics have influenced architectural projects globally. From embassies and cultural institutions in India and Southeast Asia to corporate buildings in Europe, the style’s signature emphasis on organized space and structural clarity has found universal appeal. Countries like Canada, Australia, and parts of Europe have embraced New Formalism, particularly in their public and institutional buildings, showcasing its adaptability and enduring allure.

New Formalism's Impact

According to architectural trends analysis, buildings constructed in the New Formalism style often experience preservation challenges, making them significant focal points for modern conservation efforts.

  • A survey by the Global Architectural Trends Institute (2023) noted that approximately 20% of major institutional buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s in North America adhere to New Formalism.
  • Market analysis from real estate firms highlights a resurgence in interest in New Formalist buildings, particularly among millennials seeking spaces that blend classic and contemporary aesthetics.

Enhancing Your Space with Modern Lighting

Integrating the elegance of New Formalism into your home can be enhanced with the right lighting. Whether you’re aiming for a grandiose or minimalist touch, here are some modern lighting options from Nauradika to consider:

Shop Contemporary Chandeliers Online

Chandeliers can add a touch of grandeur to any space, echoing the dramatic elegance of New Formalist architecture. Shop contemporary chandeliers online to find the perfect piece.

Buy Modern Minimalist Lights

For those who prefer simplicity with a touch of sophistication, minimalist lights are an excellent choice. Purchase modern minimalist lights to bring clean lines and modern aesthetics into your home.

Buy Sconces Online

Sconces can provide subtle yet impactful lighting, ideal for highlighting architectural features. Buy sconces online to enhance the ambiance of your space.

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Explore a variety of modern light fixtures to complement your New Formalist-inspired space. Modern light fixtures for sale offer versatility and style to any room.

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Decorative Lights for Sale

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Photographer Jamie McGregor Smith’s Latest Book: "Sacred Modernity"

Photographer Jamie McGregor Smith's latest book, "Sacred Modernity: The Holy Embrace of Modernist Architecture," captures the enigmatic allure of brutalist and modernist churches across Europe. Through his lens, Smith showcases the strikingly unconventional and sculptural forms of 100 churches, collected into 139 evocative photographs. The book, enriched with insightful essays by Jonathan Meades and Ivica Brnic and published by Hatje Cantz, serves as a testament to the architectural innovation that flourished in the post-war era.

The Resurgence of Concrete Cathedrals

In his photographic journey, McGregor Smith draws attention to structures that redefine the traditional aesthetics of sacred spaces. Churches like the Chiesa di Santa Maria Immacolata in Italy and L'église Saint-Nicolas in Switzerland embody the brutalist ethos of raw, exposed concrete and geometric innovation. These buildings, emerging during the rebuilding of Europe, symbolize a departure from conventional ecclesiastical architecture, adopting forms that often omit the traditional cross floor plan.

Transformation from Skepticism to Appreciation

The essence of encountering these brutalist churches is often transformative. Initially met with skepticism due to their stark, austere facades, these structures gradually reveal their unique beauty and architectural ingenuity. "Many are surprised to discover the thought-provoking nature of brutalist architecture," notes McGregor Smith in an interview with Dezeen.

Architectural Narratives and Symbolic Departures

Each church featured in "Sacred Modernity" tells its own story of cultural and historical shifts. The Wotruba Church in Vienna, for instance, sparked McGregor Smith’s interest in this unique genre of religious architecture. Unlike traditional churches that evoke familiarity and reverence through classical designs, these brutalist and modernist structures challenge the norms with bold and provocative aesthetics.

From St. Reinold Kirche in Düsseldorf to the Tempio Mariano di Monte Grisa in Trieste, the churches showcased demonstrate a radical shift in architectural form and function. They are spaces where traditional symbols and decorations are eschewed in favor of abstract forms that emphasize materiality and light.

A Reflection of Societal Transformation

These churches are not merely places of worship but are emblematic of a broader societal transformation. They reflect a rejection of past orthodoxies and a quest for a new social order, untethered from the historical associations of opulence and authority that characterized pre-war Europe.

As McGregor Smith poignantly observes, these sacred spaces are "hidden gems that so freely express creativity," evoking a profound sense of awe and curiosity. Through "Sacred Modernity," he invites us to explore these monumental works of art and architecture, urging a reevaluation of our perceptions of sacred spaces.


New Formalism is more than just an architectural style; it's a bridge between the modern and the classical, a visual narrative that speaks to the power of symmetry and order. Its ability to transcend geographical boundaries and appeal to a global aesthetic sense ensures that New Formalism remains relevant and revered in the architectural landscape. As we reflect on our own spaces, let's consider how the principles of New Formalism can introduce a new layer of elegance and harmony into our environments.