Text description provided by the architects. The "Light of Life" Chapel can be found at the end of the SeolGok Road on the south side of the Bori mountain, in Gapyong at 30 km from Seoul, South Korea. This building is built in the middle of a village project for retired missionaries initiated by the Protestant and Presbyterian community Nam Seoul Grace Church. Thus, beyond the reception of Sunday services, it’s a place of contemplation and prayer open every day of the week.
In addition, the center can host a hundred people in religious retreat with the availability of rooms and the offer of meals in a restaurant and cafe.
Distinction between the outside and the inside. External mass/ Internal mass. In order to reduce as much as possible the impact of a building on this very mountainous and forested site, the project tries to melt into the landscape. The ground floor area of 1500m2 has been established on the flattest part of the plot, on pilotis and facing South, thus taking advantage of the orientation for a more open view of the site. Similarly, using mainly for external coating reflective and transparent materials such as glass and polycarbonate, the building seeks to echo the image of nature and reduce the opacity of the built mass. On the other hand, the main interior space, the chapel, reveals an "internal mass" quite different, unimaginable from the outside, a world apart, its "own universe". (Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms, p33) The Protestant religion has always had as a principle to fight against all forms of idolatry prohibiting painting and sculpture in its places of worship. Similarly by refusing any sacredness of space, it has sought a form of simplicity. Yet the "sub specie aeternitatis" of Spinoza or Kant's “sublime” in front of the spectacle of nature, have they not to do with the religiosity of a place of worship? While remaining within the principles of Protestantism and in the expression of Christian symbolism, the project attempts to bring forth emotions from a liturgical, philosophical, spiritual and artistic point of view.
Circular. We find already with Calvin the prescriptions for a circular worship place that would be close to the spirit of the Early Church and Reform. If the Catholic Church favoured a cruciform basilica device, the traces of the churches of the Reform showed a circular plan. In fact, the circle represents the communion of the faithful, the equality of men in front of God and the abolition of hierarchy within the church. Similarly, the circle symbolizes the "Universal priesthood" advocated by Luther that allows all to celebrate and a personal encounter with God.
The cross In the centre of the circle there is a cross, the unique symbol of Christianity. Only that cross can claim this place where all the looks of the faithful are naturally headed. It was designed to be thin, fragile and precious. Constructed of massive aluminum by tearing with arc welding, it seems to show both the suffering of the cross, but trough its sheen, the joy of the resurrection. This cross is planted in the middle of a pool of water, so in order to approach it one has to cross the water. It symbolizes both the crossing of the Red Sea and of the Jordan River by the people of Israel, but most obviously baptism.
The gravity of light. The space of worship is covered with a hemispherical dome. This dome, as it can be found in the Pantheon of Rome or in other structures of the Renaissance represents the world, a whole. It also refers to the Celestial vault mentioned in Genesis, a mystical form between “the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament”. This form is some ways the negative of a globe that could well be the Earth, in mathematics it would be the topological space; it could also be the image of Divine perfection. The surface of the Dome is formed by the ends of the cut red cedar trunks. Unlike cut wood that is laid down horizontally, all trunks are standing upright like the trees of the forest ; 834 pieces, all different, seem to tell the story of the resurrection. This is not wood, they are trees.
To suspend this mass and form the dome, it took a lot of strength. The logs resting on the ground serve as poles which carry a steel grid structure. At each intersection is suspended a tree trunk. A lower structure made of finer steel lines, warns of any rocking motion and supports the depth of the dome. It is through this wood and steel structure that light passes, as the whole is covered by a completely independent glass pyramid. This light is coloured by the wood and seems to acquire a body, a gravity.
At the difference of Catholicism, Protestantism had as one of the fundamental principles the only Word (Sola Scriptura), the development of philosophy and music took place at the expense and with the abandon of the visual arts, becoming in some ways blind. Thus, the liturgy is oriented towards the carrier of the Word (the pastor) and towards music (The choral).
As an architect, but also as a practicing Christian, it is through the reintroduction of images, stories and symbols that we have tried to find in this place and for all visitors, the emotions related to spirituality, the sacred and the divine.