Christ Church Lutheran was established as a congregation in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis in 1911.  The congregation’s first church was constructed in 1914.  Then in 1924 land was purchased on the northwest corner of 34th Avenue South and 33rd Street in order to build a larger church.  Plans for a Gothic Revival style building were prepared, but plans for the new church came to a halt first because of the Great Depression and later because of the onset of World War II.

In 1943, another set of plans for a Gothic Revival church were commissioned so that construction could begin when the war was over.  However, in 1946 Rev. William A. Buege became the congregation’s new pastor.  Pastor Buege and the church building committee met with the architects and learned that because of rapidly rising building costs the new church was now estimated at $367,000, exclusive of the stained glass windows and furnishings.  The congregation was concerned that they would be financially unable to erect the planned building and Pastor Buege suggested they begin to seek out other, more economical possibilities.

Pastor Buege learned of the merits of contemporary Scandinavian architecture and it was thought such designs would be less expensive to build and that its simplified lines conformed more closely to the liturgical practices of the church and were more “honest.”  The name Eliel Saarinen surfaced and the congregation was impressed that he was the son of a Lutheran minister.  Pastor Buege met with Saarinen, who agreed to take on the project.  Pastor Buege later commented, “I asked him [Saarinen] if it were possible in a materialistic age like ours to do something truly spiritual.  He soon showed me.”

Saarinen presented preliminary sketches to the congregation in June 1948 and final drawings were completed the following September.  Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in November and the cornerstone was laid on May 8, 1949.  Construction was completed later that year at a cost of $336,211.92, considerably less than the estimate for the proposed Gothic Revival style church.  The dedication ceremony took place on December 4, 1949 with Eliel Saarinen in attendance.  Saarinen died the following June.  Christ Church Lutheran was his last completed work.  


In 1956, Pastor Buege asked Eliel Saarinen’s son, Eero, to design an education wing.  At the time, Eero was at the height of his career with many of his most important works on the drawing boards, including the Gateway Arch, the TWA Terminal, and Dulles Airport.  Pastor Buege said that he knew for a fact that Eero took on the modest commission so that the work of another architect would not detract from his father’s design for the church.  Sadly, Eero Saarinen would not live to see the construction of the addition.  He died on September 1, 1961.  But the addition was completed in 1962 according to his design.  

The one-story, flat-roofed building maintains a low profile and features materials consistent with those used for the construction of the church.  Associate architect Glen Paulsen commented, “The attempt was to create a totally subordinate building to the inspiring mass of the church.”


Christ Church Lutheran is nationally significant as the work of a master, Eliel Saarinen, one of the most important architects and educators of the 20th century.  Saarinen was on the leading edge of the modern movement and played a pivotal role in the emergence of modernist religious architecture in the United States.    

Christ Church Lutheran is a testament to Eliel Saarinen’s unique style of modernism in which through his use of materials, proportion, scale, and light he created a building with great dramatic effect and architectural impact, and yet retained a human scale and possessed a feeling of serenity and repose.  Many consider the building to be Eliel Saarinen’s masterwork, which has been described as without precedent in ecclesiastical architecture because of its focused design, lighting, and acoustics.

Christ Church Lutheran also provided the average congregation with an appealing alternative to traditional church architecture.  The building’s cost effective design served as an affordable modernist prototype that was emulated by congregations throughout the United States.


Eliel Saarinen was born on August 20, 1873, in Rantasalmi, Finland, the son of a Lutheran minister.  He studied architecture at the Polytechnic Institute in Helsinki, and early in his career declared that, “Architecture was a dead art-form.  It had gradually become the business of crowding obsolete and meaningless stylistic decoration on the building’s surface.  Something has to be done about it; now is the time to do things.”  

Saarinen joined two of his fellow students to form a firm that was dedicated to the practice of a “new” architecture.  Together they became leading representatives of what became known as the national-romantic movement in Finland.  Their designs seemed to emerge from Finnish vernacular traditions, but with modernist influences.  Saarinen’s most important work during this time was the railway station built in Helsinki from 1904-1919.  The monumental building features an immense arched entrance flanked by huge statues, and a massive tower.  The design was far ahead of train stations being built at the same time in the United States and most of Europe, and indicated that Saarinen’s work paralleled that of many important modernists who were his contemporaries.