Dominikus Centre A Church in Harmony with Artwork

Munich continues to grow inside the city boundaries and new churches are therefore still being built. The Dominikus Centre in the Nordheide estate houses a kindergarten, a Catholic youth centre as well as facilities of the Caritas welfare agency, and is primarily for social and cultural activities and projects. Artwork has been incorporated throughout the building complex, particularly in the unique chapel.

Dominikus Centre Munich, meck architekten, court Dominikus Centre Munich, meck architekten, court | Photo: Michael Heinrich

Compact structure

This new church centre, that won the architect’s competition, would certainly be a pleasant place to work as a caretaker, and not just because the apartment that goes with the job measures 140 square metres and has its own roof terrace. All sections of this multifunctional complex have been designed to boast an abundance of space, they are clearly laid out and most are flooded with natural light – it is a place anyone would enjoy looking after. The Dominikus Centre forms the easternmost corner of the Nordheide residential estate that was built quite recently. On an area that was formerly used for military exercises there now stand rows of multi-storey residential blocks that are mostly painted in bright colours to help break up the rather severe layout. As there were no specific urban planning requirements to be met, the Munich Architect Andreas Meck decided in favour of a compact design that is made up of five blocks and is therefore also very energy efficient. The buildings are arranged around an inner courtyard and are dominated by the chapel building.

Homogeneous design

The compactness of the centre is enhanced further by the material used for the façade: high-quality peat-fired brick, intentionally using bricks with irregularities to create a dynamic composition and sense of depth. Besides these peat-fired bricks expressing a symbiosis between man and nature, bricks have always been a popular choice for Munich’s church buildings – the most prominent example being the “Cathedral of our Dear Lady“ or “Liebfrauendom”. When walking through the arrangement of buildings we discover that the same material has also been used to pave the wide main entrance, the courtyard as well as the three recessed roof terraces. This homogenous design as a single architectural sculpture emphasises the important role assigned to the centre in this new estate: as a “cultural and spiritual centre”. There are 300 bronze crosses built into the outside walls of the chapel to mark the religious use of the building. The overall design of the centre has recently been awarded the renowned Fritz-Höger Prize 2011 for brick architecture.

A welcoming and friendly atmosphere

Social and cultural organisations occupy the largest part of the centre. There is one flat building wing with the church community centre that extends along the southern side, next to the chapel, while the taller block facing east houses the local Caritas centre with offices and multi-purpose facilities. Sufficient natural light reaches the inner zones on the top floor through recesses in the roof. The north section accommodates the youth centre with rooms that open out onto two walled roof terraces offering screened-off outdoor areas for the young people using the centre. The west block is used for the child day care centre. Here there are three group rooms with full height glazed walls that open onto a garden. Each group room has a play gallery that is excellently designed to meet the children’s needs and looks out onto the “inner street”. The buildings clearly demonstrate that the architect was not interested in unnecessary frills and wanted to establish high quality workplaces and places where people meet. The friendly and quiet atmosphere is also generated by the consistent use of just a few, very robust materials. The interior fittings in stone pine, for instance, that were also designed by the architect himself.

Blue chapel

The architectural highlight of the Dominikus Centre is its exceptional, introverted prayer room that only appears to be rectangular in shape at a first glance. This is because the two outer walls turn slightly, making the perception of space more dynamic. The special character of this chapel is based on the work of three artists. The artwork has been integrated in the building and positively accentuates the architectural style. With her ‘experiencing space’ concept or “Raumikone 2“ Anna Leonie has designed the lining of brick in blue. And because the many layers of glaze applied are absorbed by the bricks differently, in many places the structure of the brick shines through. The changing light also alters the colours, from an intense blue right up to shades of red. Positioned in front of the altar wall is a cross made of square slabs of alabaster, designed by Rudolf Bott: here the translucent material is able to interact with the coloured bricks. The only natural light source comes through the high glass window “Credo” designed by Andreas Horlitz. This window measures 4.70 x 13 meters and consists of six glass panels embellished with the Apostle’s Creed written in Latin and an excerpt from a handwritten missal of the 15th century. The building accomplishes a harmony of modern church architecture with contemporary art, something that is so often missed.