The Roofless Church – New Harmony, Indiana - Atlas Obscura

The Roofless Church

This open air cathedral invites all faiths to worship under the only roof big enough to fit them all: the sky. 


The small town of New Harmony, Indiana, which just celebrated its bicentennial, has an extraordinarily utopian history playing host to two different communal societies with two very different visions within its first few decades.

The town of New Harmony was originally known simply as “Harmony” when it was founded by a progressive German religious group, the town changed its name when the original “Harmonists” gave the town over to yet another utopian leader.

Many of the buildings that line the streets, all of which radiate out from the town’s stop light, have all the classic charm one would expect of the second oldest town in Indiana. However, further down North Street and through a gap in a brick wall there is hidden a modernist masterpiece by the architect Philip Johnson, completed in 1960.  

It is called the Roofless Church and it says something about how much we expect our building to have roofs, that when people see the shingled structure in the images, they often say, “that’s silly, that’s a roof right there.” But the church is not simply that space, it is a city block sized footprint of which only a part is enclosed. The curved parabola dome is actually a protective cover for a beautiful sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz.

The actual “church” is the entire plaza-like area within the brick walls as well as an area for looking out over a field that floods each year at least once. As the foundation which maintains it says, “Johnson and [client Jane Blaffer] Owen envisioned a church where the only roof large enough to encompass a world of worshippers was the sky.”

Know Before You Go

Enter from Main or North Streets in New Harmony

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