Suzhou Chapel

Neri&Hu Design and Research Office


The client’s brief called for a non-denominational, yet spiritually-charged multi-purpose hall to serve as a feature building of the Sangha development, located along the waterfront of scenic Yangcheng Lake. Design work began in 2011, and construction work occurred between 2014 to 2017.

The design of the Suzhou Chapel takes its cues from vernacular architecture of the Jiangnan region of China, notable for a soft palette of textured grays and whites. Brick walls of different heights are interwoven to compose a choreographed landscape journey guiding the visitor’s approach. Collected from demolition sites across China, the brick represents a continuity with the culture and history of the local people, which is crucial for a building that is to be used as a core part of the community. Assembled in various bond patterns, the brick walls add a textural layer to the façade, building patina over time, the architecture begins to emerge as if having been there for many generations in a seamless integration with the surrounding natural landscapes.

The white box perched atop is composed of an inner layer with punctured openings and an outer layer of perforated metal. The use of a double layered façade creates a sense of mystery and spectacle to the building; in the daytime, it emits a subtle reflection in the sun, while at night, it becomes a jewel-like beacon, its various windows emitting a soft glow. Contained within the white box is the main chapel space, a light-filled 12m high room, with a mezzanine and wood louvered cage element hanging above. Custom wood furniture and crafted details compliment the simple material palette of gray brick, terrazzo, and concrete. A separate staircase alongside the main space gives unexpected views both internally and externally, as the visitor ascends to a rooftop deck offering unrivaled views across the lake.

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