AZL Architects and the Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel

AZL Architects,

Yao Li,


Churches & Cemeteries,


AZL Architects have completed work on Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel in China, a project elaborating on the theme of the architectural façade as threshold, as the place where inside meets outside. The extremely lightweight look AZL Architects have given the Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel makes it the perfect example of the new vocabulary of religious architecture today.

AZL Architects and the Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel

Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel is the latest project by the Chinese studio AZL Architects, located in Nanjing, in eastern China, in Wanjing Garden on the banks of the river of the same name. Into a setting which is a perfect harmony of water and vegetation, AZL Architects fits a building of great lightness, made of wood on the basis of a few simple geometric principles.
The Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel is a church with a central floor plan in which the square outer area, measuring 14 metres a side, contains an octagonal area hosting the room where services are held. The timber frame is topped by a butterfly roof to form a volume of great expressive power. The outer façades look compact when seen from a distance but turn out to be lightweight and permeable as one approaches the building: sunbreak walls made of vertical timber boards 30 cm wide, joined by metal elements, form a filter, a walkway surrounding the entire perimeter, broken up by exits and entrances. The direction of access to the chapel is diagonal, created by two doors positioned at the western corner, continuing along the line drawn by the skylight in the worship hall, which forms the axis of symmetry of the entire church. The decision to build the chapel with a diagonal layout distorts the proportions of the chapel, which is actually perfectly square.

The single nave with the seats for worshippers and the ambo faces a cross on the eastern wall. The entire room is painted white, including the sparse wooden furnishings. There is no decoration to distinguish one side of the chapel from the other or interrupt its perfect symmetry, to the point that the roof with its bare timber beams, also painted white, seems to be an aesthetic concession. The eye is immediately drawn upwards, to the source of the natural light that filters through the skylight, drawn as a perfect cut in the roof (also 30 cm), and the artificial light concentrated there by the spotlights. The white surfaces also serve to refract the light, ensuring that every point in the chapel is illuminated.

Natural light also enters the sacred area through angular cuts in the walls at ground level, closed by the same wooden sunshades used outside it. In line with the principles underlying the project, this is no decorative whim, but an attempt to establish a lexicon of mediation between the historic masonry chapels and the more contemporary glass chapels, between exclusion of the world outside and total immersion in it.

Mara Corradi

Architects: Zhang Lei / AZL architects
Project Team: Zhang Lei, Wang Ying, Jin Xin, Cao Yongshan, Hang Xiaomeng, Huang Longhui
Location: Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China
Collaborator: ADI-NJU
Project Area: 200 sqm
Project year: 2014 
Façade with wooden brise-soleils
Structure in steel and timber
Photographs: Yao Li



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