Airy chapel held up by tree-like fractal structure in Japan

Yu Momoeda Architecture Office
© Yu Momoeda Architecture Office

The art and meticulous craft behind Japanese wood joinery -- which relies on complex, interlocking joints instead of fasteners to hold furniture and even entire buildings all together -- is known to create some of the world's longest surviving wooden structures. In Nagasaki, this striking modern chapel by Yu Momoeda Architecture Office readapts these old joinery traditions to create a spiritually uplifting space that's also visually abstract, thanks to a load-bearing, fractalized structure that dominates the interior.

Yu Momoeda Architecture Office© Yu Momoeda Architecture Office

Seen over at ArchDaily, the Agri Chapel sits on a site that's surrounded by a large park, close to the sea. These natural surroundings prompted the architects to tie local building traditions with a modern, mathematical interpretation of nature, represented in the wooden columns that have been arranged to look like fractal trees branching off into the sky.

Yu Momoeda Architecture Office© Yu Momoeda Architecture Office

Yu Momoeda Architecture Office© Yu Momoeda Architecture Office

As the designers explain:

We tried to connect the activity of the chapel to the natural surroundings seamlessly. In Nagasaki, there is an oldest wooden gothic chapel in Japan known as “Ohura-Tenshudou”. This chapel is not only a famous tourist point, but a place loved and cared for the townsfolk.

We tried to design the building as a new gothic style chapel, by using Japanese wooden [joinery] system. We created a pendentive dome by piling up a tree-like unit that extends upward by shrinking*1 and increasing. Starting by four 120mm square pillars units, the second layer is composed of eight (4+1/2*8) 90mm square pillars units, and the last layer by sixteen 60mm square pillars units. We could provide usable open space by reducing the pillars near floor level. These tree-like units are constructed by Japanese wooden [joinery] system.

Yu Momoeda Architecture Office© Yu Momoeda Architecture Office

Yu Momoeda Architecture Office© Yu Momoeda Architecture Office

The chapel's side walls provide lateral stability against wind and seismic loads. The square floorplan on the interior is perfectly divided up by four of these trees, which then branch out to form more little versions of themselves. Thin, white metal rods connect the free-ended wooden members to stabilize them, keeping them in tension, while the wooden columns are working to bear the load of the roof in compression, up to a maximum of 25 tons.

Yu Momoeda Architecture Office© Yu Momoeda Architecture Office

Yu Momoeda Architecture Office© Yu Momoeda Architecture Office

This is a minimalist yet sublimely gorgeous space: a place where people congregate to pray and to contemplate, under a visually abstract yet real reminder of the ever-generative powers of nature. For more, visit Yu Momoeda Architecture Office.

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