The client requested a design for a rondavel that could accommodate 150 people at a wedding service. The site had been selected on the banks of a rainwater attenuation dam on the grounds of the Windmills Hotel. The Chapel would provide additional amenity and economic activity for the hotel. As a remote facility, it required basic ablutions and some storage.
The venue should not be defined by any specific religion but provide for the ceremony of marriage. It should also accommodate conferences and live music. The client also requested a strong relationship between the water and the venue. The client required a multifunctional venue as a value-add to the existing hotel; the primary function is identified as weddings. By locating the chapel at the edge of the rainwater attenuation dam on the property as opposed to connecting it to the hotel itself, the need for a landscape to be designed between is created. The response is to design a route of procession starting at the hotel entrance and ending at the chapel.
The route follows an even sweep across the garden, following the natural contours of the land and allowing the user to look over changing vistas. The landscape, responds firstly to the natural form of the land. Radiating swirls of planting follow the ceremonial path and focus surface runoff on the hillside. It is the floral arrangement of the wedding and is quite spectacular in Spring. It combines with the structure to connect landscape and building. Trees are placed to provide shade to the building and planted between the poles at the entrance become part of the architecture. The building is an element of the landscape in the English Landscape tradition (with strong African influences). The landscape is composed, providing pattern and texture.
The path leads to a flat open area in front of the chapel. This is a gathering area large enough to hold the population of the chapel. A bench built into a low wall, extending from the entrance stoep, mitigates the level change between the natural slope and the flat courtyard. The visitor then enters the chapel up 3 steps, across the stoep, and into the chapel. Ceremony and procession define the design. The design of the chapel is inspired by the deeply evocative structures and spaces of Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haupt (Ronchamp, France) and E Fay Jones’s Thorncrown Chapel (Arkansas, USA). The concept uses gum-poles to define the space like tree trunks around a forest clearing.
A false perspective is induced on the space tapering towards the front while the floor slopes gently downwards. These references to classic design and the remembered imagery of polished stone floor, vertical expression of structure, stained glass and heavy timber doors provide emotive impact. The design uses light as a powerful element. The light streams between the columns, closely spaced to reduce solar heat gain and focus the view forward. The large south facing window makes the dam and landscape beyond the backdrop to the event. Coloured glass of the west elevation brings further drama and animation to the interior. The chapel is an exploration of gum-poles as a functional and emotive element.
They are the visual surface of the wall alternating with the landscape beyond. They connect with expressive steel and timber trusses (which provide a complex detailed ceiling) via a steel ring beam that also forms the weather seal between the roof and the light steel and glass curtain wall envelope.
The landscape is designed to grow into the architecture. In a few years, the full impact of the design will be realized. The building will be a part of the grove of trees, which in turn will be established as an integral part of the landscape as a whole. The design relies on natural materials assembled by a singular original building system, designed specifically for this building for its aesthetic. The design attempts to bring structure to the ceremony, provide space and definition to ritual and enhance the experience. From the architects.
Client: The Windmills Boutique Hotel
Building Area: N/A
Address: Curry’s Post Road, Natal Midlands