Architect Marek Jan Štepán has occupied himself with the idea of this church intermittently for the past 30 years. However, the intention to build a church first came up in the relaxed atmosphere of 1968 and was finally fulfilled after 50 years. Its location was chosen by the architects of the wonderful housing estate, František Zounek and Viktor Rudiš. The church is fully funded by the church offerings and donations. It is the first church to be dedicated to Bl. Marie Restituta who was born approximately 600 meters from its location. Marek Jan Štepán has shared with SURFACES REPORTER (SR) a detailed information about this futuristic church. Have an interesting read:
The church is located in the heart of the housing estate at the mouth of the Certova rokle ravine. The area is covered with tall concrete apartment buildings. The new church cannot compete with them in terms of size, which is why it has been designed to be very simple in expression, elementary in geometry and therefore easily legible.
A rectangular plateau is laid out on the plot that defines the sacred district. There are three basic masses on it – the church, the tower and the spiritual centre (designed by Zdenek Bureš).
The original centre is rectangular, the tower is triangular and the church is circular, which means the three basic geometric shapes are all represented.
The sacred district is built in a completely different scale which differentiates it from the surrounding blocks of flats and creates a dominant on a wholly new level.
The circle is the shape of fullness, it is the full stop in the area of the housing estate and its spiritual focal point that should serve as a place where people can break out of the daily hustle, rest for a while or recollect themselves.
The circle is also very close to the contemporary perception of liturgy in church that represents the community of the Apostles and Jesus around the table during the Last Supper. The tabernacle is located in a tall apse illuminated from above that is situated on the left side of the church. The church wall is torn by a triangular opening at this point, which serves as a reference to the tear in the Jerusalem temple curtain.
Talking about the light,Marek Štepán, said, “There surely are matters that transcend us and that are veiled because they lie on or beyond the very limits of our human perception. If there is any way to interpret them architectonically, I attempted at that in the form of the Lesná church dome. The light falls inside the church but the source cannot be seen. The windows are hidden behind a wide ledge. The source of the light is veiled.
On both conscious and unconscious levels, the light in the church represents the existence of the world beyond our physical experience and the existence of God. Here, the supernatural character of the light is acquired through its diffusivity. Abbot Suger considered the light that permeates and shapes the matter to be a direct sign of “the Light of Lights”, meaning God Himself.
Although almost a thousand years have passed, I have to agree with him. Or, as Umberto Eco writes in his book, God is “identified by brilliance that has the character of a light current and permeates the whole universe.” (Umberto Eco: History of Art)”
The asymmetric dome is cast into a matrix made of wooden planks that resembles a fingerprint so huge that it looks like the fingerprint of God (God’s Touch). Thus, if you want, you can experience God’s touch here (not just thanks to the dome, of course).
The Interior and the Rainbow
The interior of the church forms an inner universe. It is an organ for communication with God. It is simple, composed, and collected. The visitor should feel safe, balanced, and undisturbed by the outside world, almost like in the mother’s womb. The soft and sleek lines of the structure form a disembodied inner space shaped by the light coming from the annular window above.
Its purpose is to give indirect, soft daylight that does not cast hard shadows. The symbol of the covenant between God and His people – the rainbow – is depicted on this 80-meter-long window.
A circular rainbow is a phenomenon that can actually be observed from high altitudes, often from planes. The light is turned into an element that hints on something beyond the limits of material reality, something barely perceivable with our senses.
Marek Štepán speaks while mentioning the Baroque period, “The question of the perception of a church is a question of the contemporary perception of the world. For instance, in the baroque period the church interior was completely covered or depicted. It served as a kind of comic book because the visitors were not able to read – so the life of Jesus and of the saints and the stories of the Old Testament were depicted in the church in various forms. Today, the situation is reversed. We live in the world full of easily accessible information, of visual and other sensations attacking us on every front, so the church should serve as a space for contemplation, a space stripped of superfluous visual and other sensations.”
The tower stands further from the church. Its triangular floor plan ensures that it looks different from the inside of the church than it looks from the outside. From the outside it serves as a fixed point, a static kubus that refers to the westworks of the old churches and that anchors the whole compound on a small promontory. The side facing the church is open with a square lantern and there is a yellow part with a glockenspiel and a red part with a lookout on the Brno city centre.
The tower is both a vertical and a horizontal. Unlike the historic towers that point only to heaven like a rocket, here the direction is diverted and points to the church, which represents the vertical of the relationship of God and His people. Being 31 meters high, it is a local dominant even though it is not higher than the surrounding blocks of flats.
A steel spiral staircase goes through the concrete tower, which, when looking above, reminds one of the colour scheme and the shape of the church dome. The sign FOS ZOE (meaning light and life) in the shape of the cross is inscribed on the tower. The same sign was found in archaeological digs in Mikulcice dating back to Velká Morava period.
The material of the building follows up on the material mostly used in the surrounding housing estate, which is concrete. It is built on pilots as one dilatation unit. Prestressed reinforced concrete is used for the most strained parts – wreaths and chancels, chancels are covered by moniers constructions. The concrete materials are complemented by distinctive colourful elements. The church is designed as environmentally friendly, as the parishioners requested. Heating is provided by a ground source heat pump.
The most beautiful quality of concrete is that it is truthful; it reflects the effort and energy put into the formwork, into the pouring and compacting of the concrete, into the processing of the additives and the mixture. All that will have an impact on the surface, in its vivacity, as a reflection of life. A parallel can be found in the historic stone masonry made of individual blocks of different hues and cementing the joints. With concrete, there are the imprints of the shuttering interstices, distinct surfaces imprinted by the shuttering and slightly different concrete in every pouring, which means that poured concrete visually follows up on the stone masonry. The austerity of concrete also refers to the contemporary perception of the sacral space, which should not be visually or semantically overloaded.
There is an interesting fact regarding the precise details and the finishing of the surfaces. Muhammad Lasfer from Algeria was in charge of the surfaces and I think that as a Moslem originally from the Middle East he has a close affinity to abstraction that is desired when working with concrete surfaces.
Marek Štepá recalled an incident with the Fire fighters,“On Christmas Day 2019 in the morning fire fighters had to response to a call regarding the church in Lesná. They came after some of the neighbours reported that the church tower is on fire. The truth is that in contrast to the sky blue I used the symbolic colours of earthly life, fire and suffering (yellow and red) but I did not realize that colours had such a great power. There was no fire, it just looked like that in the morning sun.”
Studio: Atelier Štepán
Author and Principal Architect: Marek Jan Štepán
Project Location- ezvalova street, Brno – Lesná
Project Country- Czech Republic
Project Year- 1991-93, 2013-17
Completion Year: 2020
Built-up Area: 1220 m2
Client: Roman Catholic Parish of Brno-Lesná
Collaborator: Facade drawings: Petr Kvícala
Church: Diameter 25 m, height 18.5 m
Tower: 5.7 x 5.7 m, height 31 m
Asymmetric Dome: diameter 23 m, elevation 3.5 m
Rainbow Ring Window: length 80 m, height 4 m, 120 glasses
Concrete (main structure, ship, dome, ledge, tower)
Glass (80m ring window)
Granite stone (outside and inside paving)
Galvanized iron (footbridge, stairs to the tower)
Products and Brands
Concrete / walls, cornices, domes, ceilings — TBG Betonmix
Glass / ring window — Saint Gobain, Glasssolutions
Colored foil / ring window — Vanceva
Windows / flats — JANOŠÍK OKNA-DVERE
Frameless door — JAP
Emergency lights — Viabizzuno (Lumideé)
About the Architect
The author of the concept of minimal housing, Freedomek, Marek Štepán is currently at the head of the Laboratory of Sacral Space at the Institute for Architecture (ARC) of the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the Brno University of Technology. During the years 2006-2012 he was an external consultant for architecture for the head of the Office of the President of the Republic. He formulated the theory of décor of structures in architecture. In his work, he is inspired by both tradition and modernism.
Atelier Štepán was founded in 1997 by the married couple Vanda and Marek Štepán. It focuses on architecture, public space and design. Since then the studio has profiled itself into a firm creating quality Bohemian and Moravian architecture. This has been recognized several times, proved by the several important awards that it has received – Grand prix of architects, the award of the Old Prague Club, Building of the year and Interior of the year, or nominations for the international Mies van der Rohe Award and Piranesi Award. The st. Wenceslas church in Sazovice was chosen by the Canadian magazine Azure as a masterpiece amongst the 10 best buildings in the world in 2017. It was also amongst the 10 finalists of the VII edition of International Prize of Sacred Architecture held by the Foundation Frate Sole.
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