Mind & Matter


Japan Notebook: A Tale of Two Chapels

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White Chapel by Jun Aoki & Associates in Osaka, Japan. Photo by the author.

During recent travels to Japan with a group of architecture students from the University of Minnesota, we visited two significant chapels in Osaka, Jun Aoki's White Chapel (2006) and Tadao Ando's Church of the Light (1989).

The White Chapel is a small structure that is part of the Hyatt Regency Osaka complex, and was designed exclusively for weddings. Marriage is big business in Japan, and Aoki's exquisite building is tailored to provide the ideal setting for a matrimonial ceremony—replete with a curtain of lacy steel rings visible behind diaphanous fabric. Aoki's selection as architect makes sense here, considering his success in elevating the brand of Louis Vuitton in designs for several of its stores, each of which features its own visually compelling facade treatment.

Church of the Light by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates in Osaka, Japan. Photo by the author.

Ando’s Church of the Light, on the other hand, is the better known of the two buildings—its concrete-framed, crucifix-shaped aperture being one of the most widely recognized images in the realm of modern religious architecture. Pastor Noboru Karukome guided us though Ando's building, commenting that although his church is much-loved, it lacks proper insulation and illumination, making for a cold and dark space during the winter months. This project, which was achieved on a minimal budget for a devoted protestant congregation, contrasts strongly with the White Chapel, in which every comfort is anticipated for wealthy clientele.

Because each work of architecture possesses many strengths, it is inappropriate to simply declare one as superior. However, a consideration for each chapel's conception and context provides important insights about the life of each building. The White Chapel is a place of tranquility and joyous celebration, and is enveloped by omni-directional, filtered light. Ando's building, on the other hand, seeks not to comfort us, but rather to inspire us to attain greater wisdom and reflection—its slice of sunlight cutting sharply through the brisk air.


Comments (3 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 11:21 AM Saturday, September 08, 2012

    @Anonymous #1, Jan 24: In the protestant tradition, Christ is not shown on the cross...as Ando's is a protestant chapel, the approach seems appropriate. You could argue about Aoki's work; but then again, who wants to get married under a dying man??? (ok, Catholics, maybe...) And while you can complain that there aren't people in the photos, who cares? This is an old criticism by now; but more so in this case. Should we be taking photos during a service anyway? When we are in a service, are we looking around at others, or looking beyond? Does looking at people in a space really help us know what it's like to be in that space? Not insulating a concrete building...that offends me a bit. But less so if it's not heated. Anyway, Japan's architectural history has many examples of buildings that would be 'thermally uncomfortable' to modern, especially western, guests.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:17 PM Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    When I visited Tadao Ando's chapel, it was raining and there were 2x4s holding up a "temporary" canopy over the entry. Surely this rain could have been foreseen and designed for.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:23 AM Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Sadly, this is what passes for religious architecture (and academic commentary on religious architectue) in our neo-modern era. These buildings, though perhaps technically interesting and even masterful, are caricatures of sacred architecture - follies, really - when viewed in context of the venerable canon of sacred buildings in both the Eastern and Western traditions. A wedding inside an exquisitely designed Louis Vuitton handbag... great idea! How about a carefully designed concrete box with no insulation... splendid! Quote of the day: "Because each work of architecture possesses many strengths, it is inappropriate to simply declare one as superior." How about their many failings? Can we declare them both inferior? We don't even have criteria in our modern architectural parlance to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of religious architecture. We gave that up years ago. I do have to thank the author for the excellent photos. We should see more church spaces post-occupancy; with the gauche spot cameras in Aoki's chapel, and the tripod mounted lights and speakers in Ando's... "dont touch those walls!" Just for the record, a cross is a cross; a cross with an image of Jesus crucified is properly called a "crucifix." The lack of the image of the body of Jesus (or any image of any bodies) is of course part and parcel with the non-corporeal, perhaps even anti-incarnational bent of high-modernism, to which these projects seem to be worthy heirs. Thank you for the article. It illustrates how difficult it is for us to even talk about the real origins and ends of religious architecture in the 21st century.

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.