The independent Oslo-based architectural firm of Reiulf Ramstad Architects (RRA) has earned a reputation for creating bold, simple architecture with a strong connection to the Scandinavian context – and the impressive Scandinavian landscape in particular. Their projects are geographically spread out and take place in a manifold of contexts, from compact urban locations to dramatic and uncultivated landscapes.
In 2014, their project – Community Church in Knarvik – was nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture - The Mies van der Rohe Award. The new church building is an outstanding example of how an object can be placed into harmonious dialogue with its surroundings. The new Community Church in Knarvik, located on the scenic western coast of Norway north of Bergen, is built on a privileged site overlooking the cultural landscape and local town centre. The building has been carefully adapted to an existing hillside that is in-between the built and natural environments, providing the church with an inspiring context of the surrounding heath landscape.
Another aspect of how RRA goes hand-in-hand with the local context is its respect for sacred Norwegian construction traditions. Norway is the only country in Northern Europe that has wooden churches from the Middle Ages still intact. During the Middle Ages, when immense cathedrals were being built in stone in other places in Europe, a similar technique was developed in Norway for building with wood. Inspired by the local tradition of Norwegian stave churches, the new Community Church in Knarvik utilizes clear and elemental geometries, materials and constructions. The church signals its function with a sacral dignity and recognisable form in which the church spire, sanctuary and chapel are emphasised with ascending roof planes.
Another important element of the RRA project is the way in which modern sacred architecture can delight today’s churchgoer. The church’s distinctive and innovative character and central location make it a landmark in the community – inviting and inclusive of all people who wish to cultivate their faith throughout the week. The church aspires to provide a platform for the safe upbringing of children and youth, to become a local venue for gatherings and faith, and to facilitate art, music and cultural development. The Community Church Knarvik has an architectural expression, spatial solutions and a materiality that unite religion, culture and the site-specific context into a whole.
The compact building's volume has been split into two stories on a rectangular plan, thereby separating the sacred spaces above from the cultural and administrative functions below. An internal “church square” connects the two levels with an atrium staircase that leads into a continuous space, and it may be joined or separated from the sanctuary with sliding glass walls in order to accommodate more than 500 people.
Wood is the key material of the project, as expressed in both the homogeneous cladding of pre-weathered pine heartwood and the light-coloured pine finish on all interior surfaces. The building invites daylight into its core through tall, narrow windows reminiscent of lancets, which have been splayed in such a manner as to maximise the admittance of light while reducing glare. At night, the warm glow of the interior reveals the religious and cultural event activities going on within.