Mei Li Zhou Church by Tsushima Design Studio

Posted on Apr 01 2011

In the world of architecture there is no combination more harmonious than pure geometric form and a simple palette of materials. Tsushima Design Studio’s Mei Li Zhou Church effortlessly entwines with the soft natural beauty of its woodland surroundings. As it sits gently amongst soft rises of earth and delicate sprouts of greenery, the church emulates the tranquility and unity of the land, merging with the landscape and connecting its diverse community.

No natural phenomena could ever form the perfect elemental structures of Mei Li Zhou Church. But, like nature, its striking clarity and rawness of material expresses the same timelessness and purity. As underlying principles, these qualities are enmeshed with the flowing spaces of the church’s three buildings. Defined in variations, the separate structures delineate nature in unique ways, yet weave together comfortably.

As the large stairway through the church’s entrance rolls into the triangular façade of the main chapel, it depicts both a physical and spiritual gateway. A symbol of the Christian trinity on one hand and a universal sign of strength and unity on the other, the main chapel blurs the boundary between built and natural form to represent a place of spiritual gathering between all folk.

Inside, the main chapel’s open plan focuses on the ephemeral and sensory qualities of its dramatic prismatic section. Lightly finished vertical walls are engulfed by the rising slant of the triangular ceiling, angling over the vast columnless space to trigger a moving sense of enclosure. Yet the peaceful woodlands are celebrated even in the shelter of the chapel, where the rhythmic construction of its timber roof uplifts the interiors with a subliminal shower of light and dark.

The contrasting solid white tile floor underpins the church’s place as a vessel between heaven and earth, underpinning the duality of light and heavy. Two large openings at the top of the main chapel’s rear and front provide a view of the enveloping vegetation which blends into the chapel’s unfinished wooden interiors. Directing an instinctive look up into the heavens, it intensifies the scale of the roof, grounding visitors as mortals in their spiritual sanctum.

Beside Mei Li Zhou’s main chapel sits the smaller public galleries of the garden chapel and courtyard office. The three buildings are composed as a sequence of spaces, moving between inside and out, woven together by a central courtyard and minimal landscaping. Predominantly made of stone, tiles and rendered walls, the low-lying galleries are brought down to a human scale, far from the divine volume of the main chapel.

The vivid green landscaping seamlessly flows into the wide floor level windows of the galleries. Here, eyes move continuously from the accentuated contours of the land to the tall bell tower – the only structure marked by the crucifix. Its soaring height avoids severity by its slightly fragmented stone tile peak, climbing and dispersing into the sky.

Mei Li Zhou is undoubtedly a church of refined elegance and beauty, its restrained treatment of material and form creates spaces of spatial drama never in danger of starkness or alienation. The constant flux of movement – of people, light, trees and space – embed the Mei Li Zhou church with the gripping ephemeral delicacy of the land. Its wood may grey, trees age and stone erode, but the church like the earth, will remain timeless. +


IMAGES Courtesy Masao Nishikawa

1. Approach to Mei Li Zhou Church. 2. The church’s wooden interior uses the traditional Japanese system of timber construction for an open space, free of any columns. 3. The wide central courtyard and surrounding landscape brings together the church’s three buildings and bell tower. 4. The softness of unfinished timber complements the shiny stone tiles for a serene effect. 5. The bell tower’s thick volume transforms to a slender crucifix that enhances its verticality.