Modernist Churches

Mid-century modern buildings

As construction boomed in the post-war years so too did the number of places to worship. Modernist A-Frames dominated the religious landscape on the West Coast but there were also more unique structures being built. We’ve listed a handful here (along with some A-Frames) with corresponding photos, and will continue to add more… click on addresses below for Google Map locations.

Unity Church (5840 Oak Street ) – At first glance one might think this to be an oversized Googie-style coffee shop, but upon closer inspection you’ll find the unusual 1964 structure is home to the Unity Spiritual Centre, and an unexpected yet terrific example of West Coast modernism. Designed by architect Wilfred Buttjes, the building is as unique as the church it houses.

Granville Chapel (5901 Granville Street ) – This low-slung rectilinear brick structure was about as far removed as it got from traditional church architecture of the day when Robert McKee’s design was built in 1950. Second story additions were added later raising its height profile and eliminating the sleek look it once had, but it’s still pretty nice.

Unitarian Church (949 W. 49th Avenue ) – Designed by Wolfgang Gerson, circa 1964, this courtyard complex has a bit of a Frank lloyd Wright Usonian feel to it and includes a school, offices and chapel which boast tall monolithic clean lines of grey stone & brick and floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows. It earned a spot on the Canadian Register of Historic Places in 1993 but in the years since its construction the landscaping has taken over and now obscures much of the building.

Holy Name Catholic Church (4925 Cambie Street) – Located across from Queen Elizabeth Park (where the Bloedel Conservatory is situated) this mid-century gem was designed by Toby & Russell Architects in 1960 and boasts a unique exterior (by artist George Norris) adorned with modernist religious iconography as well as beautiful floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows and a unique concrete folded plate roof.

Saint George’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral (4500 Arbutus Street ) – Utilizing a style that was referred to as New Formalism – a break away movement which combined modernist techniques with classical elements such as arches, patterns and refined adornments – this cathedral was designed by Gerald Hamilton (H.R. MacMillan Planetarium) and opened in 1970.

Our Lady of Sorrows (555 Slocan Street ) – Our Lady of Sorrows was once the largest Catholic church in the city when it opened in 1960. Its exterior is composed of a clever repeating blue mosaic tile pattern (in the shape of a cross, naturally) with exposed beams and clerestory windows. A real beauty.

Highlands United Church (3255 Edgemont Blvd.) – This R. William Wilding structure (1958) in the Capilano Highlands of North Vancouver is a really nice example of the West Coast modern A-Frame esthetic with its post & beam porte cochere, red cedar interiors and exposed beams. The District of North Vancouver designated this site as heritage status in the 1990s. Another nice example of A-Frame modernism in North Vancouver is the nearby St. Catherine’s Church (1058 Ridgewood Drive ) which boasts similar architectural attributes.

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