On the outskirts of Prague, the town of Kladno was once the industrial centre of Bohemia. With just 67,000 residents, the tight-knit municipality has been served by the Brethren Church since its founding in 1870. But the congregation eventually outgrew its original multi-story building on a terraced development, and its awkward layout hindered its ability to function as a community hub. Its new home, designed by Prague studio QARTA Architektura, allows the church to maintain its spiritual programming while meeting its larger goals to increase the quality and availability of public services, improve living conditions and foster social inclusion.
The new building was co-financed by the European Union and funded in part through the sale of the old sanctuary, the surrounding garden, and by donations from its congregation — making it the product of a robust community effort. Conceived as a garden pavilion, the 360-square-metre prayer facility now also includes classrooms, a small café, and an office within a single-storey building on a newly landscaped site. In addition to offering leisure activities for both youth and adults, the centre will also provide care for those in need, including those with serious illnesses, physical disabilities, or people in crisis situations. “The basis of our work is to focus on the quality of life”, says Jiří Řezák, co-founder of QARTA.
The new building is located nearby public transit and the Kladno hospital on a street named after the church choir’s founder, Václava Pázdral. It was important to free up the space in front of the building to create ample connection with the site’s exterior spaces, which include a community garden. A pergola serves as a kind of front porch for the church and will soon be covered in greenery to shade a casual outdoor seating space. The building is a juxtaposition of light and dark, clad in charcoal grey brick with a large glazed lightwell at its core. Guests are welcomed inside under the pre-cast concrete portico, where a large wooden door leads into the entrance hall.
To the left, a wood-clad vestibule gives way to the chapel, while the supporting programs such as classrooms, offices and the cafe are located down a brick-clad hallway to the right. The entrance hall mediates these two wings, allowing both programs to function simultaneously. Both the sanctuary and the café are also accessible via the exterior portico.
The facade’s material palette carries seamlessly into the chapel interior. Unlike traditional Catholic churches, ornament is scant here. The architects instead embraced a modern minimalist aesthetic. The space’s charcoal brick walls and concrete-like epoxy floors are softened by wood furnishings, with wool acoustic boards overhead concealed by an MDF lattice. The channel-glass skylight is the true pièce de résistance, supported by an exposed steel structure that nods to the site’s industrial history.
Under the skylight, a monumental glass cross glistens in the sun. The transparency of the prominent design feature allows the simplicity of the architecture to shine, while the masonry walls draw subtle attention to the cross, with 3D bricks clustered near the hall’s centre, becoming more and more sparse towards its perimeter.
“The descending light fills the space, slices its atmosphere. It evokes a feeling of grandeur, a state of expectation, contemplation, humility,” the architects explain. “Similarly powerful, in a sacred space, is the experience of darkness, which makes way for other senses, turning perception inward.”
Drawing on its post-industrial context, local firm QARTA Architektura constructs a contemporary edifice in concrete and steel.