The Sayama Forest Chapel in the non-denominational Sayama Lakeside Cemetery, will never be liked as it has been created to house sorrow, and grief.
How does one reconcile the immense pain of coming to terms with loss, with the immense need to express that pain? With the Sayama Forest Chapel, Hiroshi Nakamura’s NAP Architects studio, tries to find an answer in nature and prayer. The pain of loss is such that a typical defense mechanism is to view it as unnatural. It is also a pain that finds solace in prayer, regardless of denominations, and the design for the Sayama Forest Chapel considers both these elements.
In regards to the chapel’s site, Nakamura has this to say: “The site itself is in front of a deep forest, and when I visited for the first time, I envisioned an architecture that could reflect on the way of life as it lives by the water conserved by the forest, and eventually returns to this place after death. So I found the subject of prayer that is mutual to all religions in the forest, which led to conceptualizing the architecture that prays to the forest while being surrounded by trees”.
As befits a structure that strives to create a sense of serenity, Nakamura set off to create as little disruption as possible. To avoid cutting the surrounding trees, the architect instead decided to tilt the building’s walls away from them. As a result, the chapel houses the trees just as much as the trees house the chapel. At the same time, the tilting walls mean that the chapel becomes a Gassho-style structure; Gassho is a traditional Japanese architectural style, and refers to the design effect of two beams leaning against each other. However, Gassho has another meaning: It refers to the shape of hands in prayer which, as Nakamura claims, is the other pillar of his design philosophy for the Sayama Forest Chapel. “As people pray, so does the architecture”, notes Nakamura, who fit a series of gables that let in light and direct visitors to meditation into the chapel’s design. The chapel’s floor is also tilted; its end towards the street being one centimeter lower was with “the forward-bending posture for praying in mind”.
The chapel features interesting technical details too, from the 251 members of laminated Japanese larch forming its triangular frame, to the aluminum roof which is made out of aluminum tiles of six different sizes, with each aluminum tile having been individually hand-bent to adjust to the curvature of the roof.
The Sayama Forest Chapel will never be liked. But built to be serene and comforting, it just might be appreciated.
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