Innovations in sacral architecture: The resettlement churches of Emil Belluš

Lívia Búliková


This article focuses on two buildings by one architect – Emil Belluš (1899–1979), a doyen of Slovak architecture, whose work significantly influenced the sacral architecture of the Evangelical Church of A. C. His innovative contributions can be seen in the design and later in the construction of two evangelical churches in Nesvady and Senec, built in the 1950s. The aim of this article is to examine and define the manifestations of innovation in the architecture of the two evangelical churches, the creative contribution of the architect Emil Belluš to the field of sacral architecture, and also the influence of the client—the Evangelical Church of A. C. Through a detailed examination of the tectonics of the churches, their layout, the materials used, morphological elements, design principles and technical equipment, we are looking for innovative ideas and principles that bring a change or progress in sacral architecture.

The churches were part of a project originally intending to build ten new churches for people who had been resettled as part of the government’s post-war migration policy. After the Second World War ended, there was a period of great migration between European countries. The territorial and administrative structure of the countries has changed, and new borders have been drawn. With the regaining of its independence, the Czechoslovak Republic also established its own migration policy with several objectives, part of that being the expulsion of the inhabitants of foreign nationalities. Thus, on 27 June 1946, an agreement between Czechoslovakia and Hungary was made, which spoke of the exchange of an equal number of the population of Hungarian nationality for the population of Slovak (and Czech) nationality. In the end, more than 70,000 Slovaks returned, mainly to towns and villages in southern Slovakia, where Evangelical Church of A. C. congregations were also restored or re-established.

Taking a closer look on the figure of Emil Belluš himself, we can see that he was quite interested in the field of sacral architecture. Among his work as a prominent architect of a wide range of buildings in both the public and private spheres, we also find a few designs for sacral buildings for different denominations. None of them, except for the two studied in this paper were ever built.
Thanks to a unique preserved lecture “On the construction of an evangelical church” by Belluš from 1947, we gain a clear look of his view on this subject. His enthusiasm and deep immersion in the field of evangelical sacral architecture are clearly evident in the text. Emil Belluš’ aim was to make an appeal to use new constructions, principles, and innovative layouts that would also meet the needs of the churchmen of his time. Overruling to all practical ideas stands the idea of creating a high quality and valuable sacred space, which would be able to support and positively influence the religiosity and culture of the society.

To search for and identify innovative trends in the architecture of the two selected churches, we used different research methods that were interrelated and intertwined. The main focus and most used method was the architectural-historical research in situ. Helped by the oral history technique, we gathered unique and necessary information needed for next steps in the research process. We focused on a detailed characterisation of the building, its construction system, layout arrangement, mass-spatial composition, materials used and other aspects, including newer renovation changes of the churches. We were able to obtain original plans by the architect Emil Belluš himself, along with historical documents, comprising pictures and writings from the years around the completion of churches. These and other materials were the starting point for naming the researched innovative trends in the sacral architecture of the Evangelical Church of A. C.

As a result, we compared the two churches between themselves. We looked closely on their mass-spatial design, construction systems, inspected materials and layout, looking for innovative approaches either by the architect or the investor—Evangelical Church of A. C. Even now, 70 years later, we can evaluate the timelessness of the functionalism and its use in the forms of sacral architecture. The architect Belluš used morphological elements of the new style, which also reflected the programmatic content in the mass-spatial division. He was not afraid to bring new matters, materials, and systems to the traditional form of the church that were up-to-date and of high quality. The quality and accuracy of the overall design is evidenced, for example, by the location of the choir room within the church and its extensive use today, where the parishes organise various prayer meetings, children’s meetings, and meetings of the young, middle, and older generations. The active use thus confirms Belluš’ thesis and insistence on a modern and updated approach to the spatial design of temples.

So how did Emil Belluš and the Evangelical Church of A. C. contribute to architectural innovation? The Evangelical Church was open to development, changes in liturgy, new ideas and the needs of the community. Belluš actively used the resulting demands to devise a new form and method of temple construction and was able to translate them into the design of a functional and spiritually valuable temple, benefitting from current trends in construction and architecture.

Keywords: innovations, sacral architecture, evangelical church, Emil Belluš