Sayama Forest Chapel

by | 21. Mar 2017

Feature | Religious
Hiroshi Nakamura, Sayama Cemetery Chapel, Saitama (Tokyo), image 7.jpg

The minimalist interior of the chapel with its large walls of larch and the altar facing the forest. Photo by Koji Fujii / Nacasa&Partners. 

By Peter Mandal Hansen

A small multi-religious chapel located near a protected forest in the corner of the Sayama cemetery, in the vast suburbs of Tokyo. The minimalist and poetic chapel devoted to multi-religious contemplation is designed by the Tokyo architect Hiroshi Nakamura.

Japanese nature offers a myriad of sacred places associated with mountains, rocks, forests and trees. Traditionally, the Japanese people see the nature as animistic, a belief that various objects, places and creatures possess spiritual qualities. This view of nature still permeates in Japanese culture and has a profound influence on their contemporary architecture, that often incorporates natural elements in the design of buildings.

Hiroshi Nakamura, Sayama Cemetery Chapel, Saitama (Tokyo), image 1.jpg

The location of the chapel – in the midst of a protected forest outside Tokyo. Photo by Koji Fujii / Nacasa&Partners.

Similar to a traditional Shinto shrine, positioned against forest hills, the Sayama Forest Chapel stands on the edge of a forest, in the corner of the predominantly Buddhist cemetery with its rows of grey stone tombs with commemorative inscriptions on wooden plates.

The architect behind this small chapel in the Sayama forest is Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP, who the year before has designed a small community center and administration building for the Sayama cemetery, that welcomes visitors and offers a place for mourners in the cemetery.

Hiroshi Nakamura, Sayama Cemetery Chapel, Saitama (Tokyo), image 2.jpg

The plan of the chapel wraps around newly planted trees. Photo by Koji Fujii / Nacasa&Partners. 

The Sayama Forest Chapel invites people from all religions – and people just seeking a contemplative space – to use the forest chapel. Visitors to the chapel are met with eight meter high walls, that also become the roof of the chapel, cladded with small aluminum sheets, that create a skin in contrast to the surrounding trees. The aluminum cladding of the roof consists of 21,000 thin aluminum sheets, that are only 4 mm thick in order for construction to be set up and bended by hand.

Hiroshi Nakamura, Sayama Cemetery Chapel, Saitama (Tokyo), image 3_arc.jpg

Site plan. Courtesy of Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP.

Hiroshi Nakamura, Sayama Cemetery Chapel, Saitama (Tokyo), image 4_arc.jpg

The roof of the chapel cladded with aluminum sheets that contrast the surrounding trees. Photo by Koji Fujii / Nacasa&Partners. 

The triangular plan of the chapel wraps several semicircular forms around three new planted trees. The semicircular forms, which emerge inside the chapel as big trunks that provide different openings to the forest and to the cemetery. The entrance to the chapel is from the forest side and brings the visitor into the small, high ceilinged space, almost gothic in its linear verticality and proportion. Beams of larch wood in a dense pattern form the interior walls. These beams rise from the semi-circular forms as inverted V’s meeting along the ridge, and form a complicated three-dimensional geometry.

Hiroshi Nakamura, Sayama Cemetery Chapel, Saitama (Tokyo), image 5..jpg

Section. Courtesy of Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP. 

According to the architect the inverted V beam structure forms the traditional “gassho-zukuri” gesture, as when two hands meet each other in front of the chest in a Buddhist prayer. Inspiration for the chapel also comes also from prehistoric Japanese Jomon period architecture, which is defined by heavy thatched roofs that almost reach the ground.

As people pray, so does the architecture”
/Hiroshi Nakamura

The chapel has a ground area of ​​110m2 and a basement with technical and charnel rooms. The prayer hall is furnished with small moveable benches and a small altar against a window that frames the forest outside. The altar can change according to the religious ritual to take place in the chapel. The room is decorated for worship, prayer and contemplation, and arranged so that it can meet all religions and people simply seeking contemplation.


CITY Tokyo
ARCHITECT Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP