The incredible use of timber in the Light of Life Church

The west entrance of the Light of Life Church. (Photo credit:Jin Hyo-Sook)

At the end of the SeolGok Road on the south side of the Bori mountain, in Gapyong at 30 km from Seoul, South Korea, stands the “Light of Life” Chapel. This building is built for retired missionaries initiated by the Protestant and Presbyterian community and designed by shinslab architecture + IISAC.

The centre can host a hundred people in religious retreat with rooms and the offer of meals available in a restaurant and cafe.

The project started in 2008 with the donation of a large quantity of Siberian red cedar wood by an entrepreneur working in Korea and Russia.

The space of worship is covered with a hemispherical dome. This dome, is a reference to the Pantheon of Rome or in other structures of the Renaissance representing the world, or simply a whole. It also refers to the Celestial vault mentioned in Genesis, and can also be the image of Divine perfection. 

The surface of the Dome is formed by the ends of the cut red cedar trunks. (Photo credit:Jin Hyo-Sook)

The surface of the Dome is formed by the ends of the cut red cedar trunks. Unlike cut wood that is usually laid down horizontally, all trunks are standing upright like the trees of the forest. All 834 pieces are all different and seem to tell the story of the resurrection.

Suspending the trunks to form the dome took a lot of strength. The logs resting on the ground serve as poles supporting a steel grid structure. At each intersection, a tree trunk is suspended. A lower structure is made of finer steel lines so that any signs of rocking motion can be detected; it also supports the depth of the dome. It is through this wood and steel structure that light passes, coloured by the wood and seems to have a body, a gravity of its own.

The main interior space reveals an “internal mass” quite unimaginable from the outside, certainly containing its “own universe”. (Photo credit:Jin Hyo-Sook)

In trying to minimise the impact of a building on this mountainous and forested site, the architecture tries to blend into the landscape. The ground floor area of 1500m2 was based on the flattest part of the plot, taking advantage of the open view. For the exterior, an external coating reflective and transparent materials such as glass and polycarbonate were used as the building seeks to echo the image of nature and increase transparency. On the other hand, the main interior space reveals an “internal mass” quite unimaginable from the outside, certainly containing its “own universe”. The Protestant religion has always the principle to resist all forms of idolatry such as painting and sculpture in its places of worship. Similarly, simplicity is founded in its design in place of any sacredness of space.

As an architect who is also as a practicing Christian, it is through the capturing images, stories and symbols that he tries to find in this place and for all visitors, the emotions related to spirituality, the sacred and the divine.