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By some metrics, Czechia is the world’s least religious nation. According to the country’s 2021 census, for example, 57.4 per cent of Czechs identified themselves as having no religion, reflecting an uneasy social history of imposed dogmas, stretching from the “re-Catholicization” of the Counter-Reformation to the atheism of Communist rule. In the Moravian city of Olomouc, the Red Church is one of the many architectural manifestations of post-war Czech culture: Since 1959, the building has been used as a book depository for the Olomouc Research Library.

Completed in 1902, the Neo-Geothic red brick church is an instantly recognizable local landmark. Designed by architect Max Löwe and built to serve a local community of German-speaking Protestants within what was a primarily Catholic and Czech-speaking country, the building’s liturgical history proved short-lived. After the Second World War, the vacant structure was converted for institutional use, eventually becoming a municipal book depository and archive, although remaining closed to the public. Over 60 years later, designers atelier-r have re-imagined — and expanded — the complex as a welcoming public library and event venue.

It was no mean feat. For over half a century, the structural condition of the building slowly but steadily degraded, necessitating a rebuild of the foundation and a full replacement of the copper roof — which risked collapsing — and the floors. While the scope of the work entailed a near-gutting of the structure, the designers were careful to honour the church’s architectural heritage, restoring all salvageable interior finishes while rebuilding the roof with new copper shingles that closely mimic the original format.

But where original decorative elements were lost, the design team worked with local artist Jan Dostál to introduce expressive and unapologetically contemporary new artifacts — including the eye-catching sculptures that now accent the steeple.

To support a much-expanded public program, the locally-based atelier-r team also added a sleek, crystalline new 230-square-metre extension at the back of the Olomouc Red Church (which has a gross floor area of 640 square metres).

The new building allows the complex to host a variety of events — including small concerts, public readings, lectures, and art exhibitions — without significantly altering the structure of the church. In addition, the angular black addition also links the church building to the adjacent library directorate, providing ease of circulation throughout the complex.

Appointed by Denisa Strmisková Studio, the new interiors are distinguished by clean geometries and pleasantly tactile, subtly mottled surfaces. A dramatic bookshelf motif accents the café and entry hall, which enjoy significant natural daylight through the expansive glazing. Outside, the Red Church of Olomouc is now complemented by a simple yet welcoming plaza, replacing a formerly fenced-off frontage with seating, greenery, bicycle parking, and a public gathering space. For the Lutherans, Catholics, atheists, and agnostics alike, it conveys a welcoming civic spirit.

In Olomouc, a Former Church Becomes a Civic Beacon

Local architects atelier-r introduce a dynamic new public program to an iconic local site.

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