Shanghai-based architecture firm Neri & Hu have erected a stunning chapel on the grounds of the Sangha hotel resort and wellness center in Suzhou, China. The chapel will provide the community’s residents and guests with a space for prayer, reflection, and meditation. The resort already boasts a spa, conference areas, and retail and educational facilities, but its owners hope that the chapel will endow the entire complex with a tranquil, more spiritual atmosphere.
The chapel serves as a focal point within the community, resting on a spot that overlooks the waterfront while remaining visible from the road below. The building’s most visually-striking feature is its perforated metal cladding, which gives it the appearance of a floating white cube that is at once serene and inviting yet still somewhat elusive. Surprisingly enough, this curtain is only an outer skin — the chapel’s “actual” exterior is made of much sturdier brick and only allows light into the interior through a few random window openings. During the day, the box appears to reflect the light, but at night it assumes its symbolic duty and becomes a glowing beacon of faith.
To get to the chapel, visitors will have to navigate the maze of dark-grey brick walls around it. These walls, which were inspired by some of the resort’s other architectural elements, have been laid at different heights and angles to create a non-linear path into the building. The depth and relief created by this labyrinth draw visitors in and form a rough texture that offsets the smoothness of the central cube.
The initial quest to find the chapel’s entrance is followed by an equally exciting journey through its interior. Visitors start in the pre-function area before moving into the highlight of the building: the main chapel space. This triple-height chamber is light and airy. Its upper sections have been covered in wooden battens, which contrast the bricks used to line the lower levels and soften their severity. Scattered windows frame views of the surrounding landscapes or other parts of the complex, visually connecting the chapel to the resort outside. A mezzanine is located on the upper level, as is a peripheral gallery that circles the space to provide additional seating and standing room. The resulting aesthetic is minimal but sacred and gives people the quiet they need for a truly monastic experience. The architects explain that overhead, “[a] grid of glowing bulb lights and delicate bronze details give a touch of opulence to the otherwise quietly monastic spaces. Custom wood furniture and crafted wood details compliment the simple material palette of gray brick, terrazzo, and concrete.”
At one side of the main chapel space, a smooth concrete stairwell leads up to the roof, where a terrace provides some breathtaking views of the resort and the nearby Yangcheng Lake. The journey up these stairs is yet another part of the procession through the building, and the chapel’s geometric massing creates a variety of both light and dark spaces that make that ascent all the more impressive.