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Sayama Forest Chapel
Architects: Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP
Year: 2013
Area: 114 m2
Location: Saitama, Japan
Sayama Lakeside Cemetery operated by the Boenfukyukai Foundation is a cemetery open to various religions and denominations. It is located in a nature-rich environment adjacent to the water conservation forest enclosing Lake Tama and Lake Sayama, the water source for Tokyo metropolitan. The site itself is in front of a deep forest, and when I visited for the first time, I envisioned an architecture that could reflect on the way of life as it lives by the water conserved by the forest, and eventually returns to this place after death. Thereupon, I found the subject of prayer that is mutual to all religions in the forest, which led to conceptualizing the architecture that prays to the forest while surrounded by trees.

The site is a small triangular plot of land that is adjacent to a municipal road with a low traffic and a non-legal street with almost no pedestrian. Therefore, I have decided to create a space that devotes to the forest that is transcendent in its existence, by tilting the wall inward to avoid the tree branches and leaves. It forms a Gassho- style structure (the traditional Japanese architectural style that can be seen in a village such as Shirakawa-go, the world heritage site in Japan.) without the need for a seismic wall as two leaning beams set against each other are developed in every direction. The roof is covered with cast-aluminum tiles with ripple-like textures each made by hands of craftsmen according to the complex three-dimensional surface.

As the altar faces the forest in the south east direction, during a memorial service in the morning, the light through tree leaves and branches pour onto the altar as light shining through a stained glass. The floor inclined towards the forest by 1 centimeter guides people towards the departed and the forward bending posture for praying. The patterns of slate and the seams in between extend towards the vanishing point deep into the forest to help one with concentrating the mind on the forest. When one prays, a small warm space is created as the fingers gently join. It is as if that small praying space within the hands was taken out to form the architecture. As people pray, so does the architecture. When turning away from the altar to return to the seat, the one can view the scenery of the towns we live in. The window is for the encouragement when he or she raises their face back towards the real world. What could a space do when one is in a despair that cannot be fully comforted through words? The aim was to create an architecture that kindly watches over the person and his or her emotion.
Photos by Ben Richards