This wedding chapel in Japan seems to unravel effortlessly on site. Designed by Tokyo-based architect Hiroshi Nakamura, the structure has won the 2015 Wallpaper* Design Awards for Best Chapel thanks to its fluid curves which create the illusion of weightlessness.
Located in the grounds of a luxury resort near Hiroshima, the design is a clear architectural reference to the union of a couple in marriage.
“Just as two lives go through twists and turns before uniting as one, the two spirals seamlessly connect at their summit to form a single ribbon. By entwining two [spiral elements], we realised a free-standing building of unprecedented composition and architecturally embodied the act of marriage in a pure form”, says Hiroshi Nakamura.
The distinctive look is achieved by two exterior stairways, which flirt together in elevating spirals. The stairs start at different ends, eventually meeting in unison on the roof of the structure. This creates an observation platform set 15.4m high, allowing guests to access breathtaking views of the Seto Inland Sea. This game of spirals is the architectural element at work here. As it coils, it creates walls, eaves and the roof for the chapel it holds within.
However, the dual spiral design was not only chosen for its symbolic link to the institution of marriage. In a country which is highly seismic, the architect chose this structure also as a means of gaining stability. Clever detailing disguises the engineering, tricking the viewer to think that this building simply unravels against gravity. In reality, the structure is a complex combination of vertical and horizontal joints engineered by Arup. The stairs support each other horizontally as they cross over one another. Vertically, the building is held together by a series of load bearing steel posts; deliberately slanted at construction and naturally righted into a vertical position by gravity once the supports were removed.
Inside, the space can hold up to 80 guests. The spiral game of intertwining stairs is fully experienced within the building. It culminates in a wonderful glazed oculus framing the sky. The relationship with the natural surroundings is important. All walls are glazed panels, giving the impression of getting married outdoors protected by an architectural embrace. Furthermore, it allows for an abundance of natural light to flood the building, minimising the need for artificial lighting within.
The building is finished with painted timber panels clad with a titanium zinc alloy. Aside from its aesthetic qualities, the material was chosen also due to its resistance to erosion from sea breeze.
The orientation of the chapel is cleverly studied to turn on the romance. The main building axis faces west, meaning that couples can get married as they watch the sunset paint the sky and ocean pink.
All this symbolism could seem a little forced and very cheesy. Yet the architecture seems to prove otherwise. There can be a very fine line between cringworthy and romantic, but one which – in our opinion – has not been crossed by the architects in this wonderful design.