The beauty of brutalism: St. Johannes XXIII. Church in Cologne

This awesome building happens to be just around the corner of my home, close to the center of Cologne. The St. Johannes XXIII. Church was designed by architect Heinz Buchmann and sculptor Josef Rikus in the late 1960s. It was pretty derelict in the early 2000’s but thankfully was restored in 2014–2015.

From today’s perspective it’s somewhat hard to picture the conservative Catholic church to be investing in such modern architecture, but actually there’s quite a number of brutalist churches around. At least to my eyes, this is maybe one of the most beautiful ones.

The tall building in the background is another iconic example of brutalist architecture: The Uni-Center, said to be Europe’s tallest apartment building when opening in 1973. With a height of 134 metres, it houses a total of 968 apartment units.

During “Tag des offenen Denkmals 2019” – an open monuments day in Cologne – we were able to visit the church and see its stunning interior. The idea of the architect and the sculptor was to create a tree-like structure that houses the tabernacle, itself a delicate wooden sculpture that matches the complex squared-off concrete architecture around it. The tree structure then extends over the ceiling and also gives support to it.

If you want to read further about this church (in German only):
St. Johannes XXIII. Church at

On a technical note, the three sets of photos above were taken with different cameras and lenses:

  • The night shots: Fuji X-E3 with the 23/2
  • The interior shots: Sony A7R II with Voigtländer 35/1.4
  • The last shots: Sony A7R II with Zeiss Contarex 50/2

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