When thinking about churches, we tend to imagine spires, domes and rose windows. But there are many churches around the world that depart from these traditional styles in favor of more contemporary designs.
From oblong disks to horn-like protrusions, these houses of worship look like something out of science fiction, and stepping through their doors can feel like entering another realm. The otherworldly architecture creates a unique kind of atmosphere, encouraging visitors to look at spiritualism through a different lens.
11 Cathedral of Brasilia, Brazil
Completed in 1970, the Cathedral of Brasilia looks a bit like a flying saucer. Visitors enter the structure through a darkened tunnel, emerging into a bright room filled with wooden church pews. Above the seats, a multicolored stained glass roof rises like a tent, allowing natural light to filter in and reflect off of pearly white flooring. Angel sculptures hover above, and the cone-like shape of the church inevitably draws the eye upwards, to the glass ceiling and the heavens beyond.
10 Harajuku Church, Japan
With its arches and oblong windows, the interior of Tokyo's Harajuku Church eschews hard edges and corners in favor of softly curving waves. Its many windows and skylights allow a natural glow to illuminate the undulating walls of the structure, and a handful of brightly colored chairs add a splash of vibrancy to the white interior.
Designed to emulate an open sky, the wave-like ceiling allows for excellent acoustics, and standing underneath it can feel a bit like being on the inside of a swell on the ocean.
9 Church of Hallgrímur, Iceland
One of Reykjavik's most famous destinations, Hallgrímskirkja was built over a period of 41 years, designed to emulate the icy, mountainous geography of Iceland. Although its exterior is quite unique, with cliff-like walls flanking a pointed clock tower, the inside of the church mirrors the interior of many Protestant churches in Europe, with white archways stretching down the nave. Hovering above Iceland's capital, its tower is visible throughout the city, and visitors are able to ascend to the top for views over the rooftops and the mountains beyond.
8 Saint-Pierre, France
When thinking about churches, concrete probably isn't the first material that comes to mind. But Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modern architecture, designed many buildings primarily out of concrete, and Saint-Pierre is one such structure. It resembles a telescope more than any cathedral, and when you're inside, looking at the walls can actually feel like gazing into the heavens. Tiny circular windows dot the side of the church like stars on the night sky, creating a distinctly otherworldly atmosphere for people inside.
7 Cardboard Cathedral, New Zealand
After New Zealand's iconic ChristChurch Cathedral was damaged by a disastrous earthquake in 2011, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed the Cardboard Cathedral as a transitional church in which events and concerts could be hosted. Known as a "disaster architect," Shigeru Ban is often enlisted to quickly create economical structures following disastrous events, and he built this church pro bono.
In his work, he often utilizes recycled cardboard, and this church is no different, with cardboard tubes extending down its length. Above the entrance is a triangular stained glass window, which lends a prism-like look to the structure.
5 St. Mary's Parish, Canada
The brick walls of St. Mary's Parish undulate like waves, with nary a straight line in sight. It's worthwhile to walk around the entirety of the church, as the entire structure seems to change with every step, the curving walls bending into new, asymmetrical forms. Where many churches are topped by arching domes, above St. Mary's a hangs bowl-shaped concrete ceiling, which opens into cylindrical skylights that hang like halos above the pews. Created by the architect Douglas Cardinal, this church is famous for its unique design, which eschews the tradition of edges and corners to embrace a more contemporary, curvilinear style.
4 La Sagrada Familia, Spain
La Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous churches in the world, and it's not even complete yet. Construction began over a hundred years ago, and still continues to this day. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, this building was highly unique for its time, an icon of modernism in the 19th century.
The spires look a bit like melting candle wax and intricate sculptures hang above the doors, beckoning visitors inside. Within the church, columns reach to the ceiling like trees, splitting into branch-like projections as they near the roof. Nature clearly served as inspiration for Gaudi, with the interior feeling as much like a stone forest as a house of worship.
3 Temppeliaukio Church, Finland
Built directly into rock, entering Temppeliaukio Church feels almost like stepping into a cave. Natural stone walls circle the interior of the church, with a glass skylight allowing natural light to illuminate the unique design. Above the entire structure hangs a copper dome, which looks a bit like a UFO from the outside. Given its unique architectural features, it's unsurprising that Temppeliaukio Church, sometimes called the Rock Church, is a major tourist attraction in Helsinki, drawing half a million people on a yearly basis.
2 Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia, Dominican Republic
In place of a typical spire, an enormous archway towers above Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia in the Dominican Republic. With its concrete facade, the church has a spartan quality about it, but its unique triangular roof draws many tourists on an annual basis. Inside, sunlight enters the structure through stained glass windows, which adds some warmth to the concrete walls. As legend has it, the church was built on a sacred site, and inside, visitors can admire a famous portrait of the Virgin Mary. Every year, pilgrims line up at the altar and pay their respects.
1 Notre Dame du Haut, France
Something between a rhinoceros and a robot with a hat on, Notre Dame du Haut is a masterpiece of the architect Le Corbusier. Thick concrete walls rise to meet an asymmetrical roof, with one corner of the building towering above the rest like the horn of an animal. Within the structure, visitors enter a sparsely decorated room with a pulpit and church pews. Small, irregular windows allow solitary beams of sunlight to filter through the darkness, the stained glass adding a splash of color to the stark interior. Located in the commune of Ronchamp, this church is a bit remote, but it's an excellent destination to add on to a road trip through France.