Temppeliaukio (Rock) Church
in Helsinki is an architectural marvel, almost certainly unlike
anything you've ever seen. Carved from solid rock in a setting that
looks like the surface of the moon, it is both a functioning place of
worship and a must-see for the tourist visiting Finland.
Designed by the architect brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, and
constructed in 1969, the church is only partly visible from above
ground. What projects above the surface is an enormous dome whose
central portion is copper and outer rim is made of glass.
From a vantage point on the hill well above the church, one can see the
dome shining like a shiny, brown spaceship about to leave the crater's
surface. Surrounded by stark, craggy rock it is an amazing sight.
The interior view is equally impressive.
With a seating capacity of 940 people in its spacious 11,000 cubic
meters, the interior is uncluttered. There are few pews, and an
unobtrusive altar, and because of the dome's structure no pillars are
required. The walls are jagged rock, quarried out and left as is during
Because of the color of the copper dome cap, and the glass skylights,
the aura inside is subdued but cheerful. The light birchwood pews help
retain the lighting and color scheme. The natural lighting and dome
shape make for few deep shadows and the effect is one of airiness and
open space under a protective cover.
Since the dome is joined to the rock by reinforced concrete beams, and
the majority of the church is set below ground, the interior is quiet
as a... well, a church...below ground! Go figure.
Further below is an air raid shelter that could accommodate 6,000 in
the unlikely event that Helsinki is ever attacked from the air.
The city doesn't experience tornadoes and hurricanes, but when the
church was constructed in 1969 it was the height of the Cold War, so
possibly they were concerned about an attack by nearby Russia. It
wouldn't be the first time. Finland was held by Russia as a Grand Duchy
in the early years of the 19th century.
Water runs down cracks in the crags around the perimeter in a
deliberate design decision to retain some of the natural features of
the geological setting. Sitting in the pew looking at the
smooth slab of granite that serves as an altar, one gets an excellent
view... and superb sound.
This is because the acoustics in the interior are perfect for choral
and orchestral music or just organ or piano. Owing to the careful
thought given to using the dome, the sound envelops the listener as the
gentle summer sun illuminates the interior.
The total effect is...and, there's no better way to describe