The Coolest Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues of the Year

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

Religion is changing—from the stained glass industry to Portlandia's perfect parody of a desperate pastor's plea that "church is an option." At the same time, there's been a major renaissance in religious architecture over the last few years.

"The landscape of sacred space is changing, along with dramatic shifts in organised religion," explains Michael J. Crosbie, the editor of Faith & Form magazine, which focuses on religion, art and architecture. Crosbie is also the organiser of the magazine's annual awards, which honour religious architecture around the world. "Jury members agreed that religious art and architecture are flourishing throughout the world, and that artists, architects, liturgical designers, students, and others are exploring ways to balance tradition with new demands of religious practice," he explains of this year's crop of winners.

The most recent winners of the awards reflect the changing landscape of religion: They range from a "chapel" that can host any type of congregation, to a hyper-modern mosque, to a super-sustainable retirement home for elderly nuns. Take a look at a few highlights below.


A Floating Prayer Space, Designed By Kids

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

This school and prayer space built for underprivileged kids in Thailand, near the border of Myanmar, isn't actually "floating." But it is designed to look like it—it was based on a child's drawing of the future building, which showed it flying through the sky.

Japanese architect Kikuma Watanabe created the next best thing: A series of foundational walls made from sand bags that open up into a "floating" grass and bamboo roof, where the prayer space is located. So while it's not levitating, the prayer space definitely feels like it's humming above the rest of the building's activities.

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Kikuma Watanabe


A Rural Chapel Designed For Every Religion

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Though we don't think of it as a very religious university anymore, Georgetown is a Jesuit school—and Jesuit traditions, like contemplative "retreats," are fairly big part of its mission. This chapel by Dynerman Architects is the centerpiece of a new campus development in rural Virginia, designed for events held by Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, and other religious groups on retreats at Georgetown.

The super simple design was, as the architects explain, an attempt at "an architecture that imparts a strong and clear spirituality without specific reference to any one religion." In other words, yes, the cross can be removed.

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Alan Karchmer


A Green Convent In the City

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

This building in Toronto isn't exactly a convent—it's more like a place for nuns, who have worked for most of their adult lives for others, to "retire." According to the Toronto Star, they range from 75 to 98 years old, and many are ailing and need consistent medical care.

The building is a secluded piece of nature in the city, designed by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects with everything from rain collection to a green roof—apparently, that was important to the convent. "In the last 12 years, the sisters have become more aware of the harm done to the planet and they wanted to do their part in sustaining it," said Congregational Leader Thérèse Meunier in a statement on its website.

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Bob Gundu, James Dow


Manhattan's Biggest New Synagogue

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Lincoln Square Synagogue, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, used to occupy a historic piece of architecture in New York—a curving travertine building that seems like a counterpoint to nearby Lincoln Center. But congregations grow—so they built the largest new synagogue NYC has seen in half a century. Designed by CetraRuddy Architecture, the new space looks like a glowing organism sandwiched between two somber Manhattan office buildings.

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: David Sundberg/Esto


An Ultra-Modern Mosque With a Moat

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Because this community mosque in Riyadh floats three feet higher than the rest of the development around it, visitors have to climb a few stairs before entering. HOK devised a "moat" of granite steps that seem to float in front of the facade, which is cloaked in layers of traditional Islamic patterns. Though the geometry is hyper-modern, the building still retains most of the traditional rules that govern mosque design—it's an interesting mix of avant-garde ornamentation and traditional design.

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Alan Karchmer


Check out the rest of the winners below.

St. James Cathedral Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, designed by architectsAlliance

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Tom Arban



St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Sarasota, Florida, designed by JNW Studios Architecture

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Greg Wilson, Ryan Gamma



Proyecto Clamor de Paz in Guaimaca, Honduras, by Paul Lukez Architecture

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Paul Lukez Architecture


West Side Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey, designed by Newman Architects

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Peter Aaron/Esto



Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas, designed by OMNIPLAN Architects

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Peter Calvin



Temple Judea in Tarzana, California, designed by Herman Coliver Locus Architecture

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Farshid Assassi


St. Gregory's Church, in Agrigento, Italy, designed by Pellitteri & Associati Studio

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Alessia Riccobono



Our Lady of Mercy Chapel in Newport, Rhode Island, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Francis Dzikowski



Church of St. Gregory the Great in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, designed by Northeast Collaborative Architects

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Aaron Usher



Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Athens, Georgia, designed by Houser Walker Architecture

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Hank Houser


Christ Church Cambridge in Cambridge, Massachusetts, designed by Frank Shirley Architects

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the YearThe Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Randy O'Rourke



First Presbyterian Church of Burbank in Burbank, California, designed by domusstudio architecture

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: Brady Architectural Photography


Boa Nova Church in Estoril, Portugal, designed by Roseta Vaz Monteiro Arquitectos

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

The Coolest Churches, Mosques, And Synagogues of the Year

Photo: João Morgado