Japan Notebook: A Tale of Two Chapels
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.