St. Joseph in the Woods | Messner Architects

| 18 : 00 – 11 April 2018 |


Facade of a old renovated church with upper loft space

The stunning conversion of an 1950’s building into a church – St. Joseph located in scenic woods of Collalbo in Italy expresses divine closeness to heaven.

Located along the Sigmund Freud path, the church ‘in the woods’ redesigned by Messner Architects adopted many of the traditional aspects of church design and existing features for modern volumes. Renovated and retrofitted by David and Verena Messner the church’s entrance facade features stained-glass windows from famed artist Peter Fellin. Rectangular openings were created to bring in more sunlight and to connect the interiors with exteriors. Apart from these, the altar of the sacred place has monolithic rocks placed on translucent glass base and a quiet meditation area at the upper loft.


Loft space for meditation covered in wooden panels

Meditation space



Balcony with glass railing and cross bracing beams

Balcony overlooking the exteriors



Rear side entry to church

Rear side entrance

From the Architects – 

The church in Stella is an appreciated spiritual place for people from far and wide, not least because it is located along the popular Sigmund Freud path in the alpine woods at 1300 m.a.s.l. The conversion and renovation of the building dating back to the fifties is aimed at re evaluating the existing structure and making it more attractive.

The main focus of the modification is in achieving a friendly and inviting atmosphere and a well-defined architectural structure. Click To Tweet


Facade of a old church in Italy

East facade of the church

Black and white photo of interiors of an old church

Before renovation – Interior of Church

Light – 

The east facade of the building was broken through to provide the church interior with more daylight. The huge rectangular opening behind the presbytery bathes the interior in light and underlines the pursuit of linking inside to outside, in a way spiritual to profane.

The fleeting glimpse inside is claiming people’s attention and stimulating to enter the church. Click To Tweet


Rectangular window opening

Rectangular window on east facade


The prevailing ‘genius loci‘, the spirit of the place, is strikingly expressed with the phrase ‘church in the wood‘ . The framed view is characterized by a continuously changing landscape in the course of the seasons. The contemplation of nature gives the opening its highly meditative meaning.



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The shape of the building is no less striking as it tries to cover most of the site area on ground floor which has visitor parking and Mary’s garden.

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Ground floor – 

Inside the church the previously existing height difference between presbytery and nave is reduced and replaced by a ramp with an incised canyon. The configuration as a ramp dissolves the separation of the space and creates the impression of a shaped landscape.


CAD floor plan and section

Ground floor plan and section



Natural light, Altar, high ceiling and wooden benches inside a church

Presbytery and Nave areas


The dark incisions in the wooden ceiling reflect the joints in the flooring and takes up the idea of a landscape crossed by tracks and traces. A freestanding panel of translucent glass opposite to the front door works as a protective and informative shield.


Translucent glass as information board and shield


The stained-glass windows originate with the artist Peter Fellin. The figurative arched windows with the pictures of Saint Stephen and Saint Notburga were moved from the east facade to the west facade where they brighten the entrance.

Since renovation the abstract and precious stained-glass windows receive more attention and appreciation.


Light through stain glass windows of church

Beautiful stain glass windows


Presbytery – 

The reconfiguration of the prebytery originates with the recently passed away artist Franz Messner and was completed by his children David and Verena.


Rock pedestal with glass base



The altar is located on the central axis of the presbytery, while the ambo and the priest’s chair are situated sideways in front of the main liturgical object. Solid monoliths of a local variety of gneiss rock rest on the translucent glass bases.


Rock pedestal on a raised platform




Rock furniture with translucent glass base

Base details



Longitudinal section


The light breaks through the fragile bases and makes the heavy masses hover above the ground. The design of the wooden benches takes up the lightness of the presbytery.


The weightlessness of the design strongly expresses the aspiration for the divine and the closeness to heaven. Click To Tweet


Small office space

Registry office area




Staircase to loft space


Religious place photography

View of the interior space at dawn


Project details :-

Project Name – St. Joseph in the Woods

Architect Firm – Messner Architects |

Design team – David & Verena Messner

Location – Lichtenstern, 29054 Collalbo (BZ), Italy

Client name – Haus der Familie

Project type –  Religious architecture, Church

Completion Year – 2017

Built Up Area – 250 sq.m.

Photography Credits – © Davide Perbellini

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