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A Tour of the World’s Most Unrepentantly Modern Churches

Worship at the altar of striking architecture.

Chapel, Sancho-Madridejos, 2000, Valleaceron, Spain.
Chapel, Sancho-Madridejos, 2000, Valleaceron, Spain. Juan Carlos Sancho

Outside the town of Almadén, in central Spain, nestled on a scrubby hillside, there is a chapel. You’d be forgiven for thinking it is an art gallery, or perhaps a particularly modern-looking winery, or the home of an eccentric tech mogul. Planes of concrete fold into one another, creating elegant, severe triangular surfaces that frame a wooden doorway marked by tapering planes of glass. But inside there is only sunlight—and a cross. Known as the Valleaceron Chapel, it was designed for the property by the architecture firm S-M.A.O. in 2001. It is also just one of 1,000 mesmerizing examples of extraordinary contemporary buildings in the new Phaidon book Destination Architecture.

The book covers buildings in 70 countries around the world, and is not limited to religious structures. It includes everything from skyscrapers to libraries, and airports to museums. But the churches and chapels stand out as departures from conventional expectations of religious architecture—devoid of stained glass windows, soaring vaulted ceilings, or stone cherubs. Instead these houses of worship embrace stark lines and a variety of materials: copper, aluminium, timber, concrete, and stone.

Sunset Chapel, Esteban Suárez and BNKR, 2011, Brisas del Marqués, Acapulco, Mexico.
Sunset Chapel, Esteban Suárez and BNKR, 2011, Brisas del Marqués, Acapulco, Mexico. Courtesy Esteban Suárez and BNKR

In Tainan, China, the Tainan Tung-Men Holiness Church is a square concrete building, with a facade elegantly sheathed in rose-colored aluminum screens. Finland’s Kärsämäki Church incorporates the old and the new—18th-century building methods on the site of an old church, with a shingled exterior topped not with a spire, but with a lantern-shaped skylight. In Acapulco, Mexico, the hexagonal Sunset Chapel appears to defy gravity. Its narrow base gives way to an elevated chapel that faces contemplatively, out to sea.

Get a look at these sacred spaces and more, with Atlas Obscura’s selection of images from the book.

Suvela Chapel, OOPEAA, 2016, Espoo, Finland.
Suvela Chapel, OOPEAA, 2016, Espoo, Finland. Mika Huisman
Tainan Tung-Men Holiness Church, MAYU, 2015, Tainan, China.
Tainan Tung-Men Holiness Church, MAYU, 2015, Tainan, China. Shawn Liu Studio
Viimsi St. James Church, Martin Aunin, 2007, Haabneeme, Estonia.
Viimsi St. James Church, Martin Aunin, 2007, Haabneeme, Estonia. Arne Maasik
Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel, AZL, 2014, Nanjing, China.
Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel, AZL, 2014, Nanjing, China. Yao Li
Kärsämäki Church, OOPEAA, 2004, Kärsämäki, Finland.
Kärsämäki Church, OOPEAA, 2004, Kärsämäki, Finland. Jussi Tiainen
Church of St. Mary of the Angels, WOHA, 2003, Bukit Batok, Singapore.
Church of St. Mary of the Angels, WOHA, 2003, Bukit Batok, Singapore. Tim Griffith
Suzhou Chapel, Neri & Hu, 2016, Yangcheng Lake, Suzhou, China.
Suzhou Chapel, Neri & Hu, 2016, Yangcheng Lake, Suzhou, China. Pedro Pegenaute
Parish Church Señor de la Misericordia, Moneo Brock, 2016, Monterrey, Mexico.
Parish Church Señor de la Misericordia, Moneo Brock, 2016, Monterrey, Mexico. Jorge Taboada
Church of Seed, O Studio, 2011, Luofu Mountain, Huizhou, Guangdong, China.
Church of Seed, O Studio, 2011, Luofu Mountain, Huizhou, Guangdong, China. Iwan Baan
<em>Destination Architecture</em>.
Destination Architecture. Courtesy Phaidon