located along the popular sigmund freud path in the alpine woods of bolzano, messner architects‘ church in stella is an appreciated spiritual space for people from far and wide. the conversion and renovation of the building, dating back to the fifties, is aimed at reevaluating the existing structure and making it more appealing to visitors. the fleeting glimpse inside the chapel encourages visitors to enter the place of worship.

the prevailing ‘genius loci’, latin for ‘the spirit of the place’, is strikingly expressed through the catchphrase ‘church in the woods’
all images © davide perbellini



the large rectangular opening behind the presbytery bathes the interior in light and underlines the pursuit of linking the interior to the exterior. the prevailing ‘genius loci’, latin for ‘the spirit of the place’, is strikingly expressed through messner architects‘ catchphrase ‘church in the woods’. the framed view is characterized by a continuously changing landscape throughout the year. 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. the dark incisions in the wooden ceiling reflect the joints in the floor.

meditation room



a freestanding panel of translucent glass opposite to the front door works as a protective and informative shield. the stained-glass windows originate from artist peter fellin. the figurative arched windows with the pictures of saint stephen and saint notburga were moved from the east to the west façade where they brighten the entrance. since its renovation, the abstract and precious stained-glass windows receive more attention and appreciation. the altar is located on the central axis of the presbytery, while the ambo and the priest’s chair are situated in front of the main liturgical object. solid monoliths of a local variety of gneissic rock rest on the translucent glass bases. the light breaks through the fragile bases and makes the heavy masses hover above ground.

the view onto presbytery



the weightlessness of the structure strongly expresses the aspiration for the divine and the closeness to heaven. the new staircase starts with a loop, hovers above the registry and leads to the attic floor along the east façade. the previously unused attic floor was restructured and recovered as a place for meditation, silence and retreat. the attic consists of an entrance area with a cloakroom, a restroom, a storage room and a spacious event room. the entire timber-framed supporting structure was demolished and substituted by a three-hinged arch. the subsequently unsupported tent-like space was improved in its physical properties by insulating the wood-shingled roof. 

view towards the rear end of the chapel



the brickwork of the western gable was demolished to further provide the meditation space with daylight. a stair shielded by a wall element leads down to the meditation space wrapped in its lower part in carpet like a nest and dissolving in its upper part in wooden boarding. the entire surface of the gable wall is closed by a glass façade which opens up the view to the piazza. a stepped terrace enlarges the meditation space with an attractive open space, connecting the inner to the outer space both visually and mentally. ultimately, only two architectural interventions determine the conversion of the church in the wood: on one hand, it is the breakthrough of the sacred space to the landscape, on the other hand it is the opening of the gable to the piazza.

attic floor details

the registry

altar base detail

stairway to attic floor

west façade at dawn

east façade at dawn

details of the eastern façade 

outer view into the presbytery



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: lynn chaya | designboom

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