Division and attraction: Doshisha Chapel

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Facet Studio won the Doshisha University Chapel Complex design competition with a design that splits the program of chapel and exhibition space into two volumes.

Facet Studio won the Doshisha University Chapel Complex design competition with a design that splits the program of chapel and exhibition space into two volumes. Image: Daici Ano

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The two separate volumes visually read as a single building, in part due to the consistent and distinctive material choice of cut grey hand-finished tiles.

The two separate volumes visually read as a single building, in part due to the consistent and distinctive material choice of cut grey hand-finished tiles. Image: Daici Ano

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The chapel differentiates itself from the surrounding brick and gabled-roof buildings with its flat roof and extensive glazed walls, while preserving the sense of rhythm created by the bricks.

The chapel differentiates itself from the surrounding brick and gabled-roof buildings with its flat roof and extensive glazed walls, while preserving the sense of rhythm created by the bricks. Image: Daici Ano

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The chapel differentiates itself from the surrounding brick and gabled-roof buildings with its flat roof and extensive glazed walls, while preserving the sense of rhythm created by the bricks.

The chapel differentiates itself from the surrounding brick and gabled-roof buildings with its flat roof and extensive glazed walls, while preserving the sense of rhythm created by the bricks. Image: Daici Ano

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The chapel is housed in the south-western volume and the Niijima Jo Exhibition Space is located in the north-eastern volume.

The chapel is housed in the south-western volume and the Niijima Jo Exhibition Space is located in the north-eastern volume. Image: Daici Ano

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The water feature represents the Pacific Ocean – the divide between the United States and Japan that Niijima Jo (who founded Doshisha University in 1875) crossed despite a ban on international travel.

The water feature represents the Pacific Ocean – the divide between the United States and Japan that Niijima Jo (who founded Doshisha University in 1875) crossed despite a ban on international travel. Image: Daici Ano

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The interior palette is carefully refined and details are well-crafted, the use of timber bringing warmth to the grey tiles.

The interior palette is carefully refined and details are well-crafted, the use of timber bringing warmth to the grey tiles. Image: Daici Ano

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The interiors take into consideration the acoustic needs of different activities. Hollow-block walls and timber ceiling panels reflect and absorb sound.

The interiors take into consideration the acoustic needs of different activities. Hollow-block walls and timber ceiling panels reflect and absorb sound. Image: Daici Ano

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Facet Studio has created two awe-inspiring volumes separated by a physical and metaphorical divide for the chapel complex at Doshisha University’s Kyotanabe campus in Kyoto.

The chapel and study centre at Doshisha University’s Kyotanabe Campus in Japan isn’t made from brick. Cut grey tiles, the clay finished by hand with cobalt powder and then fired in a kiln, cover the buildings’ facades. In general the Doshisha University campuses in Imadegawa and Kyotanabe use brown-red bricks and brick was specified in the design competition as a focus of the project. However, Facet Studio, the architects of the Kyotanabe chapel, saw this part of the competition as an opportunity to question the meaning of brick and, in doing so, to ask what it means to use brick in a facade and what this in turn means for the identity of a building. The university’s existing brick buildings create a homogeneous campus, with different volumes that look alike. In contrast, Facet Studio’s grey tiles come in three thicknesses, repeated in a rhythmic composition. The tile patterns give the effect of random order, contrasting with neighbouring buildings. Depending on the viewing angle, the grey tiles can appear to be flat or to have depth.

Many of the university’s buildings have gabled roofs. These buildings have flat roofs. The two volumes (the chapel in one volume and the exhibition space and student lounge in the other) are presented as one entity, the flat roof and grey tiles breaking the homogeneous geometry found elsewhere on the campus. In differentiating itself from the surrounding brick buildings, the project creates a presence by being a non-presence.

The two separate volumes visually read as a single building, in part due to the consistent and distinctive material choice of cut grey hand-finished tiles. Image:  Daici Ano

Doshisha Kyotanabe Chapel is not closed in or opaque. It encloses space while maintaining openness and a feeling of unity between inside and outside. A wide service path runs down the middle, between the two volumes, connecting different sides of the campus. Facet Studio is exploring the relationships between landscape and nature, and between architecture and imagination, in a restricted condition. This project shows that every architectural work is full of possibility, an opportunity for introducing change, and that architecture is about creating transparency and links.

The project has very refined, carefully crafted interior materials and detail composition. The chapel and the study centre take into consideration the acoustic needs of different activities, such as lectures, Bible readings and singing. In this space, a wall is more than a wall. It is where sound and airconditioning are controlled to mediate the different acoustic requirements and create a comfortable environment. Interior walls made of hollow blocks add lightness while reflecting and absorbing sound, giving the space richer acoustics. The timber ceiling panels also help reflect sound and air.

The water feature represents the Pacific Ocean – the divide between the United States and Japan that Niijima Jo (who founded Doshisha University in 1875) crossed despite a ban on international travel. Image:  Daici Ano

The chapel interior and the study centre are visible from the outside, and from the inside they feel like part of the sky. This openness contrasts with the enclosed, dark spaces of previous chapels. Doshisha University, while founded on Christian principles as a basis for an “education of conscience,” is not a Christian university in the traditional sense. It is not affiliated with any particular Christian church or denomination and does not promote the expansion of Christianity in the missionary sense. Rather, it’s a place where one can study morals and philosophy, in a spirit of independence and autonomy. Often religion can be a boundary. Transparency questions boundaries. This space is transparent, allowing activities to be seen and showing the relationship between the chapel and the study space.

Passers-by are curious about what they see and the open space invites them in. The placing of the service road in the middle of the two volumes creates openness in a certain direction – only in the middle section, rather than the long section. Elevated above the road, a body of water called Niijima’s Jo’s Ocean lines the inner edge of each volume in a subtle boundary that both separates the two volumes and unites them despite the cut of the circulation road. The water creates poetic moments of stillness and movement as ripples respond to the wind.

The chapel is housed in the south-western volume and the Niijima Jo Exhibition Space is located in the north-eastern volume. Image:  Daici Ano

The exhibition space and student lounge are comfortable places in which to study and relax. The proportions of the space encourage lounging, while the chapel volume allows people to feel the presence of nature while listening to music, singing songs and reading liturgy as services unfold.

The Doshisha Kyotanabe Chapel and its study centre aren’t just architecture. The project demonstrates architecture as an act of imagination, as a thinking and rethinking of given parameters, and as the invention of systems to realize desired conditions.

Facet Studio will be presenting at the ArchitectureAP Symposium during the Asia Pacific Architecture Forum on 4 March 2016. Click here to purchase tickets to the event.

The Asia Pacific Architecture Forum is a collaboration between founding partners Architecture Media and State Library of Queensland; presenting partners Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, BVN and the Museum of Brisbane; event partners University of Queensland School of Architecture, Australian Institute of Architects, Artisan and the Australian High Commission Singapore; and is presented in association with The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) – The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art and Maison&Objet Asia.


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