Together with John Pawson we attended the blessing of his newly build Chapel in Unterliezheim in Bayern. We have carefully collected 61 logs of Douglas from 6 forest owners in Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfal for the Pawson Chapel.
John Pawson Chapel — Unterliezheim, Bayern
Set on a hillside on the very cusp of the forest, with sweeping views across the Swabian landscape and a clear sight line to the church tower of the village of Unterliezheim, the intention is that people encounter the wooden chapel as a found object, rather than as a conventional work of architecture.
A small path branching off the main trails leads to its entrance, located at the transitional point between woodland and open ground. The structure itself is framed as the simplest of gestures. From certain perspectives its mass appears as a pile of logs stacked up to dry; from others the considered placement of the elements on a concrete plinth creates a more formal impression of a piece of sculpture emerging from the forest.
The purposefully narrow entry maintains the sense of physical proximity encountered as one moves through the dense woods, adding visceral and visual theatre to the exhilarating experience of passing into an attenuated space over seven metres high and nearly nine metres long. Light levels are deliberately low, with a narrow beam of natural light entering from above, through a small aperture near roof level.
The dimness of the environment helps focus attention on the two other sources of light at the far end of the chapel: on the elevated cruciform opening and the structure’s single window. A slender bench offers an invitation to pause - for a moment of inward reflection and also to contemplate the rich but rigorously restrained interior world of the chapel, the outward view it frames across the landscape and the sustained counterpoint of compression and expansion that lies at the heart of this architectural composition.
When a single material predominates, there is scope to inhabit that material in a sensorially immersive way - by touch, sight, smell and even sound, since the character of a surface affects the character of an acoustic. Inside the chapel the glory of the cut Douglas trunks is immediate – in its warm hues, tactile surfaces and the patterns of the sawn grain.
Outside, where the wood has been subjected to the minimum intervention and where time and the weather will each contribute to a process of ongoing physical change, the structure will carry in perpetuity a powerful memory of the forest from which it has been formed.