Standing at the Bella Vista Sakaigahama Resort Hotel in Onomichi, Hiroshima; is a majestic wedding chapel on a hill that enjoys a panoramic view of the Inland Sea of Japan. How could the act of marriage be encapsulated in space? Well, by entwining two spiral stairways and thus realizing a free-standing building of unprecedented composition.
By joining two spiral stairways so that one supports the other, NAP Architects produced a free-standing structure. Just as two lives go through twists and turns before uniting as one, the two spirals seamlessly connect at the 15.4 metre summit to form a single ribbon. At the core of their movement is a chapel where the people who have supported the bride and groom are waiting. The chapel aisle looks toward an existing symbolic tree; and the altar stands before the tree where 80 seats are positioned for views to the ocean through the trees.
Wedding chapels, as a building typology, have always followed a route configuration. The bride walks down the aisle with her father; and after the ceremony, the same aisle becomes a route of departure for the bride and groom. In the process of walking this path, every step awakens memories and emotions. What makes the Ribbon Chapel so special is that the wedding ceremony takes form as the bride and groom climb separate stairways to meet at the top; to ask for heaven’s permission to join as one and declare their marriage. The two, who have lived separate lives, then walk back down the stairway together.
In the traditional sense, a building is composed of distinct elements: roof, wall, and floor. Here, however, the entwining stairways perform the functions of roofs, eaves, walls, and floors to produce the building’s spaces. The stairways widen in breadth in response to location and function; such as at the summit where the couple meets; and sometimes in directions having fine views; or in places where the eaves must be deep to thermally shield the interior from the sun.
The simple building is composed only of paths, along which sceneries of ocean, mountains, sky, and distant islands successively appear and disappear. Although it is only a small building, the design team made attempts to accommodate the emotions of the bride and groom and the thoughts of the celebrants by extending the aisle to a total length of 160 metres and in so doing creating not just a building but rather a range of experiences.
Moving on to construction technology, the building’s exterior is finished in upright wood panels, painted white so as to deepen in beauty as time passes; and titanium zinc – an alloy resistant to damage from the sea breeze and pliable enough to be applied to curvature. Employing the zinc alloy on the coping, walls, ceiling, and window sashes enabled a simple design that was unified by a single aesthetic appeal.
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Architects: NAP Architects
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Structure Design: Ove Arup & Partners Ltd
Structural Contractor: S Structure
Area: 80 sqm
Status: Completed, 2013
Photographs: Koji Fujii / Nacasa & Partners Inc