COUNCIL MEMORIAL CHURCH, VIENNA
Thanks to my last post on Wotruba Church, a fellow Instagrammer made me aware of another Brutalist gem in Vienna. I took a stroll to see it yesterday and realised I have passed it a couple of times. Council Memorial Church (Konzilsgedächtniskirche) can be found in the 13th district of Vienna and is a low concrete block without a spire. It does not announce itself as a church as such and could easily be mistaken as a wall, were it not for the small doorways gouged out of each of its four corners.
Completed in 1968, eight years before the more celebrated Wotruba Church, the interior is a sanctuary of shifting light and a simple palette of exposed concrete, white steel, wood and amber/mustard carpeting. The windowless but voluminous interior is flooded with natural light from the overhead skylights in the gridded framework of the ceiling.
Every detail and furnishing is bespoke and congruent with the overall geometric design. Passing through one of the narrow doorways, the interior opens up breathtakingly into what feels more like a courtyard than an interior space, a feeling that is emphasised by the cloister that wraps around the upper level.
Throughout, there are repeating square patterns setting up meditative rhythms; one counts the dark void of each cloister opening as if they were rosary beads, and the eye is led by the rows of of folded steel seating to the trompe d’loeil cube form of the confession booths.
Today would have been architect Josef Lackner’s 86th birthday. He studied in the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and is responsible for many striking and innovative buildings throughout Austria and Germany.
Konzilsgedächtniskirche was itself lovingly and sympathetically restored for its 50th birthday last year.
It is not difficult to lose track of time in this calm and cocooning church that skilfully avoids feeling like an industrial building, despite the overt use of materials normally associated with a more utilitarian architecture. The fact that every detail, from hand-rail to plug-socket, remains the same as the architect designed or specified, helps maintain the sense of timelessness, so that the four bunker-like walls stand firm against the tides of change in the outside world.