Andrzej Białkiewicz

Cracow, Politechnika Krakowska


Analysis of tasks of designing contemporary sacred architecture in view of the author’s own designing experience in the field encourages an attempt at a synthetic presentation of a number of problems. After 1970, obtaining planning permission for sacred objects was much easier than it had been before in Poland, e.g. in cases when the building area did not exceed 250 m². Such a church was then called a “chapel”. Another range covered buildings with an area not exceeding 600 m². Designers often tried to circumvent those regulation by designing two-storey churches with the lower storey partly sunken into the ground. It seems that the legal regulations relating to the designed church area to some extent influenced also their form.

Despite its large diversity of form, the church architecture of that time did not entirely free itself from the traditional patterns. The process of church construction involved an investor, a contractor and a designer. In many cases the construction was carried out according to a do-it-yourself method, and the architect was often surprised by changes made without his consent. The actual building created under such circumstances often significantly deviated from the design as he was excluded from the very process of construction. However, it should be emphasized that these problems occurred only in the implementation of some of the sacred buildings. However, many outstanding examples of religious architecture have also been built in Poland.

Since 1989, a planning permission to build a church has not required special procedures to bypass the building code, and the designer now has a much greater influence on the ultimate outcome of his work. Therefore the majority of the problems discussed herein, characteristic of church architecture of the nineteen seventies and eighties, have already passed.

keywords: architecture, church, design, sacred architecture of the 1970s and 80s in Poland


Tasks of designing contemporary sacred architecture are usually complex in nature. Their analysis, in view of the author’s own designing experience in the field, encourages an attempt at a synthetic presentation of a number of problems and a formation of some conclusions. The author wishes to present the specificity of the issues based on over forty projects of which he was either author or co-author. Similar problems seem to have been quite widespread as regards the implementation of other sacred architecture objects.

From 1970 onwards, obtaining planning permission for sacred objects was much easier than it had been before in Poland. Applications for such permissions to build churches always reflected real needs. As Sławomir Siwek wrote in 1986: The goal of church building has for decades been to make up for the most striking disproportions and thus to improve the situation of the faithful who had to travel a long way to the church. To meet the needs expressed by the believers, diocesan curiae developed organizational criteria to be used on applying for planning permission. As a rough ‘minimum’ criterion, it was assumed that a church should serve 10–15 thousand believers.[1]

Prior to the design phase, the programme of the object was developed. It was then that the needs of the parish were carefully analyzed. At this stage, the future investment was also affected by some formal and administrative restrictions such as location, church size, building area. At the turn of the 1980s it was easier to get planning permission for a church which did not exceed 250 m² and for which no presbytery-house was planned. Such a sacred object was granted planning permission as a so called ‘chapel’. Any priest who commissioned such an object had to travel tens of kilometres from the existing presbytery-house to perform a liturgy there. Another group was constituted by religious buildings with an area of 250-600 m². According to Janusz A. Włodarczyk, there was  …an administrative spatial requirement for the usable space in a church not to exceed 600 m². It was easier to obtain planning permission if the limit was observed. That is why most churches built in the 1970s and 1980s were similar in size, although larger objects also occurred.[2] More often than not the investor agreed with the designer to try and circumvent the regulations. However, from a time perspective, it becomes obvious that the programme developed at the time was too spacious both with regard to the variety of functions and the area designed for them. This was due to the fact that when there was an opportunity to build a church, the idea was to make it as big as possible. The result was two-storey churches with the lower storey partly sunken into the ground. This is where classrooms, chapels and all kinds of so called utility rooms were situated. It turned out later that most of the rooms were never used and had been designed mostly to circumvent the regulations and maximize the usable space without increasing the built-up area. Apparently, the legal regulations concerning the size of the churches affected their form to a certain extent.

[1] S. Siwek, ”Budownictwo sakralne – ciąg dalszy”, Tygodnik Powszechny (1986), no.2, p.3.

[2] J. A. Włodarczyk, ”Dwa kościoły rzymsko-katolicki i ewangelicko-augsburski”, in Budownictwo sakralne ’98. Konferencja naukowo-techniczna. Budownictwo miast i wsi. Białystok 78 maja 1998, Białystok, 1998, p.366, after: J. Sowińska, Forma i sacrum. Współczesne kościoły Górnego Śląska, Warszawa, 2006, pp.117–118.

[3] ”Konstytucja o Liturgii”, no.123, in Sobór Watykański II, Poznań, 1968, p.68, after: M. E. Rosier-Siedlecka, Posoborowa architektura sakralna. Aktualne problemy projektowania architektury kościelnej, Lublin, 1979, p.149.

[4] J. Rabiej, Tradycja i nowoczesność w architekturze kościołów katolickich. Świątynia fenomenem kulturowym, Gliwice, 2004, p.129.

[5] A. K. Olszewski, ”Próba typologii współczesnych kościołów w Polsce. Komunikat oraz kilka uwag ogólniejszej natury”, in Sacrum i sztuka, Kraków, 1989, pp.85–105.

[6] Ibid., p.101.

[7] Ibid.

[8] J. G. Szeptycki, A Study of Problems and Factors of Contemporary Ecclesiastical Architecture, a thesis presented to the Faculty of the School of Architecture, The University of Southern California, June 1952, after: A. K. Olszewski, I. Grzesiuk-Olszewska, J. Szeptycki i jego kościoły w Ameryce, Warszawa, 2000, p.15.

[9] Sowińska, p.118.

[10]Olszewski, p.103.

The full text of the article was published in the pages of "Sacrum et Decorum" I, 2008. Please send your orders to the University of Rzeszów Publishers or activate an electronic subscription.