Sawla Church and School

A new church and school for the Jesuit community in Southern Ethiopia

Sawla is a small town on the western side of the Rift Valley in southern Ethiopia, two days drive along unmade roads from Addis Ababa. This project is for a new Catholic church currently served by a small mission with two priests.

The mission currently has a small chapel and priests' accommodation along side a nursery school and a community meeting place. Dow Jones Architects were commissioned to masterplan the mission compound, locating and designing the new church and school.

The new church is situated at the entrance to the mission compound, opposite the town medical centre, with a courtyard forming the threshold between the street, school and church. A deep narthex provides a shady space to gather before services, and marks the point of entry into the church.

The proportions of the church are based on Solomon’s Temple; Solomon is a central figure in Ethiopia’s foundation mythos. The church is structured around darkness, with light towers that light specific parts of the building. The church is simply built in concrete block and render, to relate to the available local technology.