Centre for Architecture Theory Criticism History
School of Architecture

Communities of faith: Modern church architecture in Queensland 1950s-1970s

  • Lisa Daunt
  • Dr. Janina Gosseye (Primary Supervisor) UQ
  • Prof. John Macarthur (Associate Supervisor) UQ
  • Assoc. Prof. Sven Sterken (Associate Supervisor) KU Leuven
Project Timeframe: 2016 - present

In the mid-twentieth century the liturgical movement set out to rethink the forms and practices of Christian belief, which prompted a reappraisal of church design. In Australia, as elsewhere, the modern Church came to play an important role in shaping the country’s post-war civic realm. Its influence has, however, not been studied systematically. Using Queensland as an Australian case study, this research addresses this dearth and considers the influence of the architecture and urban planning of modern churches in (quite literally) building community in cities, suburbs, towns and township in Queensland. Architectural influences and churches’ typological evolution (between the early 1950s and the late 1970s) will be related to their geographical, socio-historical and cultural context to determine how these ecclesiastical designs contributed to building modern community in the state.


Prior to World War II church buildings in Queensland were built in Gothic, Romanesque, Arts and Craft and Spanish Mission styles, with elongated rectilinear plans, central processional aisles and high ceilings formed by gable roofs. During the post-war decades variants of modern architecture were explored in Queensland church design, and as the function of worship was rethought, plans increasingly gathered the congregation around a humbler, laity-focused altar. This lead to experimentation with the shape of the plan and the proportions of the worship space: as wider cross-spans popularised, the prevalence of the basilica plan decreased, and a variety of roof forms emerged.


As elsewhere, the Church (in its varying denominations) and its architects increasingly sought to evoke immanence and transcendence in a decisively new and modern manner. Queensland architects drew inspiration from both national and international examples, simultaneously seeking to adapt their church designs to the local, hot and humid climate. In Queensland, liturgical change, modern architecture and regional climate considerations thus provided compounding opportunities to rethink church design from first principles.


Providing a collated study of Queensland’s post-war modern churches, this doctoral research will not only fill a gap in the geographical net of modern post-war church design, but will also investigate how Queensland’s church buildings contributed to building a modern Queensland community. Using Queensland as a case study, this research will consider the influence of religious bodies - via the extensive building programs of modern church buildings undertaken during the post-war decades - in the formation of Australia’s modern welfare state and modern community. Christian churches were arguably one of the key private actors in the 1950s and 1960s, although their influence likely started to decline in the 1970s. Their role has hitherto not been researched and is therefore currently not understood.