Temppeliaukio (Rock) Church in Helsinki is an architectural marvel, 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 tourist delight.
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 the 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 the stark, craggy rock it is an amazing sight.
But 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 the construction.
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 makes 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. Further below is an air raid shelter that could accommodate 6,000 in the unlikely event that Helsinki is attacked from the air.
The city doesn’t experience tornadoes and hurricanes, but 1969 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 geology. Sitting in the pew looking at the smooth slab of granite that serves as an altar, one gets an excellent view… and superb sound.
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, there’s no better way to describe it, heavenly.