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Making It

A Church Whose Roof Would Become An Urban Hotspot

A democratic plan would have opened up the church grounds to everyone.

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In 2009, the community of Våler, Norway, sustained a severe blow: Their 17th-century church caught fire and burned to the ground. To replace their beloved meetinghouse, the town recently held a competition for a design that would serve as a symbol of renewal. Among the proposals was OOIIO Architecture’s low-lying all-wood structure, whose rooftop doubles as a promenade, providing an open public space with views of the picturesque surroundings.

"OOIIO Architecture designed for Våler a different and new typology of building, trying to solve two problems of the city at the same time," the Madrid-based firm writes in its brief. "They need a new church, and they don’t have a representative public space, a meeting point where all the inhabitants could meet or immediately associate it to Våler and nowhere else." It’s a beautiful gesture, making the church accessible and useful to even those residents who don’t attend religious services, in the same way that Snøhetta’s Norwegian National Opera and Ballet house became a public plaza and architectural landmark in Oslo. But there are some practical drawbacks to the plan: Without a draining system, the indented rooftop could become a reservoir of rainwater. And the open chapel, while creating a strong connection to the outdoors, could be unpleasantly chilly during long winter sermons.

That said, a few tweaks could have salvaged the proposal and made for a lovely communal space. Instead, Våler opted for Espen Surnevik’s slightly more traditional structure, whose white façade and pointed naves refer to the original church’s form.