Chapel on the Water: The ritual of Silence

  • A small chapel situated close to Tomamu, commonly known as Church on the Water in Hokkaido, Japan in the world.
  • It is a tight spaced chapel a part of the Alpha Resort hotel.
  • Ando managed to create a secret chamber focused towards a small forest of birch trees ,and a stream flowing into it which became the backdrop of the church. Thus, originated the name Church on the water.
Exterior view of Chaple on the water by Tadao Ando


  • Church on the Water by Tadao Ando stands peacefully in Hokaiddo dwelling perfectly with the surrounding environment.
  • A feeling of inside and outside in the sacred space yet creates a stigma of its own amidst the forest and the stream.
  • Moreover, it becomes a part of the environment.
  • Hokkaido, a region of cold winters, is located at the northern end of the Japanese archipelago.
  • The surrounding area is thickly wooded. From spring through summer, it is covered with greenery.
  • The leaves turn brown in autumn, and the region is covered with snow in winter. The church vicinity is surrounded by a rich diversity in flora and fauna and one can hear the sound of winds blowing and birds singing in the silence of the prayer.

Geometry into the Form of the Church on the Water

  • A natural brook has been made to change its path to form an artificial lake, and the geometrical form of the church designed by Ando stands against the lake.
  • This landscape, integrating natural scenery, garden, and architecture, is a masterpiece of contemporary Japanese landscape design.
  • As we walk inside the vicinity of the chapel, the sound of the water guides us to the way of the chapel and an L-shaped wall shields the church from the disturbance of the city and humans.
  • Turning the corner at one end of the wall, we suddenly see the wide expanse of the lake. There is a sense of release as if our bodies were melting into the landscape.


“You cannot simply put something new into a place. You have to absorb what you see around you, what exists on the land, and then use that knowledge along with contemporary thinking to interpret what you see.”

  • These words are apparently a part of the Architecture Style of every Ando’s masterpieces. He always tries to connect the human soul with the built-up creating a sense that humans are a part of this large ecosystem.
  • Chapel on the water in Hokkaido binds a relationship with nature which is the principal concept of his work.
  • Ando develops a poetic nature in this small chapel bringing in light horizontally instead of from the top.
  • The soul connection a worshipper feels in a sanctum area is spread across every corner in this church.
  • It’s very beautiful. And yes, being in a confined and low space still feels like you’re away from the large world and fills you with sanity.
  • Ando succeeds in creating a microcosm in which he combines concepts related to the sacred and the secular, the artificial and the natural, the hidden and the exposed, the infinity and the void, in a simple but ingenious manner.
  • The most noteworthy aspect is that Ando has used the frontal wall to connect the human with the majestic nature and created a sense of openness in the confined space.
  •  In this way, he creates a living, multicolour and ever-changing scene, that changes from the sepia tones of autumn to the glaucous hues of winter; from the florid blooms of spring to the intense greens of summer. 
Interior view of Chaple on the water by Tadao Ando

Visual walkthrough into the chapel on the water

  • The Church on the Water belongs to the surrounding environment sloping down towards a small river in a clearing of beech trees all around, this element of nature apparently seen in all the architecture pieces of Tadao Ando initiates a simple and unforced experience in this Church on the Water in Tomamu, Japan.
  • The Chapel is based on a clear geometric concept.
  • The form is a combination of two overlapping squares which is frontally faced to a large pond that connects to a river.
  • The building plan is two overlapping squares, one 50 feet to aside, and the other 33 feet. In the smaller square, four crosses are arranged with their ends nearly touching.
  • The smaller cube with a semi-circular spiral staircase meets at the entrance of the smaller cube and the larger of the two cubes serves as the chapel. The long L-shaped wall separates the chapel from the hotel behind it and the buildings lined in the south and east edge of the pond establishing a perfect visual enclosure.
  • To gain entrance to the church, the visitor enters below the glass and steel cube at the northernmost end which also sets back four large concrete crosses that pull the attention upwards.
  •  The path leads up and around these crosses, and then down the connecting dark spiral stairway into the larger cube of the chapel below.
  • Upon entering the chapel, visitors are struck with the view of the pond and surrounding trees and hillside through the operable glass wall. The other three walls are made of concrete, and a steel cross is sitting right away in the middle of the artificial pond.
  • The act of transferring the cross from the interior of the church further increases its visual impact.
  • The crosses define a transparent cube intended as a divine space that disperses toward the cardinal points.
  • The space within the crosses is a small square with a glass roof and benches arranged around its perimeter.
  • The crosses are 50cm thick and arranged in such a way that their outer vertices are separated by barely 5cm, adding to the dramatization of the composition. In a more ethereal reference to their original form, the crosses are housed within a transparent cube; a metal structure covered with laminated glass.

Going into more architectural details about the chapel on the water

  • Next to the chapel there is a 6.2-meter high concrete portico, supporting a beam which extends 15.9 meters
  • This portico houses the sliding screen which sits between the church and the pond. It reinforces the idea of being a small creature in this large shell of the world keeping us down to earth.
  • In this way, when the weather permits, it is possible to pull aside the screen, maximizing the intimate relationship between the chapel and its surroundings
  • In a corner of the chapel, there are three waiting rooms as well as hygiene services, adjoining the semicircular staircase and discretely hidden below the light cube.
  • It is placed around a cylindrical glass space that receives overhead lighting via four glass surfaces.
  • The interior of the chapel is impeccably sober. Five rows of wooden benches are placed in pairs at each side of the room in a very simple design.
  • The walls of the chapel contain a number of fenestrations which becomes the light source, establishing a series next to the exposed concrete grid, which is typical of Ando’s works.
Interior view of Chaple on the water by Tadao Ando


  • The materials which are wholly used are exposed to concrete and glass.
  •  The walls of the church are double layered to protect them from the harsh cold climate. The wall comprises 35 inches of concrete wall on both sides of a layer of a Styrofoam sheet.
  • The floor is covered with black granite slabs.
  • The floor is also double-layered, with all rooms having heating under the floor.

Adding some more interesting facts to it, the church on the water by Tadao Ando is one of the most desired wedding destinations for young Japanese women and holds many weddings each year. The large glass wall is closed most of the time to protect against weather damage, but it is opened for the ceremonies which unite the guests with the seemingly infinite natural world outside of the windows.

Ando succeeded in his intentions to design a sacred spaces through the ritualistic and circuitous entry route. To date, it is one of the prestigious sacred space around the corner for the residents around it.