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Architecture Monday

December 11, 2017

OK, there wasn’t any way I wasn’t going to talk more about Ando’s Church of the Light.  There’s a reason this is one of Ando’s most known buildings.  For one, it was early in his career.  For two, it was done on a very tight budget.*  And for three, it’s such a crazy simple design.  And yet, there’s something about it that is way more powerful than the apparent sum of its parts.

Every little move of that simple design adds to the overall working and feel of the space.  Even something as simple as the joint in the concrete traverses continually all around the entirety of the space, and how the window mullion and the base of the cross all align on that same joint.  It both breaks down the scale of the space while also unifying everything into a whole, drawing your eye down to the apse and the luminous cross.

The angled wall that bisects part of the nave not only provides a functional need of creating a weather break, it also creates a circuitous path that is hidden from the inside, separating the mundane from the sacred.  More crucially, the way it narrows the volume in an offset manner brings yet more motion and expansion to the space that a pure rectangular form wouldn’t.  The wall also hovers below and allows light to wash along the ceiling, creating a hovering effect that seems to lift the ceiling even higher.

All the geometries then play together to create washes of light that change throughout the day.

One thing that was striking to see in person was how tightly packed the church is within its urban site.  The design was as much a response to the physical constraints as it was to the resources of the congregation.  And it masterfully navigated both.

Much less often shown in pictures is the later additions Ando designed for the church, which includes a courtyard, an entry canopy, and a side chapel/classroom/administrative hall/community gathering spot.  He employs much of the same language, including the amazing slippage of concrete and light.  Unique compared to the main church, however, is the rich use of wood.  (I especially enjoy the cross hung from the ubiquitous formwork tie holes.)

Marvelous work, on so many levels.  There’s little that can compare to being there in person;  feeling space around you is a multi-sensory affair which depends greatly on peripheral vision.  However!  There is the next best thing for now… 360 VR.  Click the images below to go to 360 degree views of both the main church and the side chapel.  And if you have Google Cardboard or similar, these should be viewable there for the full VR experience!

* So much so that midway through construction he thought he was going to have to redesign it to not have a roof!  The construction company however, sensing that this had the makings of something wonderful, chose to donate and complete the work.

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