An iconic new concert hall completed in September 2021, the Chapel of Sound looks like it’s been carved in stone. Designed by OPEN Architecture, the hall will be inaugurated in early 2022. In the hills of Jinshanling, an area northeast of Beijing that’s home to miles of the ruins of the Great Wall, the architects have created a place for contemplation and reflection. It’s “a chapel without religion,” says Li Hu, codirector of OPEN with Huang Wenjing. This is why it’s fair to say that the building is principally a concert hall – one that demonstrates yet again architecture’s ability to blend with nature and that sustainability, if applied thoughtfully, is something real, tangible, and plannable.
OPEN Architecture isn’t new to architecture that’s created in symbiosis with nature. A good example is Garden School, a public school it designed just outside Beijing’s fifth ring road. In this case, the idea was to create alternating open spaces and green areas on two levels that could satisfy the growing need for Chinese students to escape the cities.
For the Chapel of Sound, the architects added local stone to the concrete mix to mimic the sedimentary layers of the site. Enhanced and darkened by the addition of coal, the concrete is a close match for the colors of the mineral-rich rocks found here. The result is a structure that integrates seamlessly with its surroundings. The hall itself is cone shaped, with the narrowest section forming the foundation. This means that the building has had the least possible impact on its site, while the cone shape works to enhance the hall’s acoustics. The aim was, in fact, to create a place similar to a cave, in which sound could reflect off the walls and then emerge from openings in the ceiling.
The project, however, is more than just the concert hall, including a rehearsal room and an outdoor stage and viewing platforms, where the link with nature is fully revealed.
The architects did a great deal of research into the acoustics of live music, the behavior of sound informing the shape of the building. Li and Huang say they wanted to “see the shape of sound.” Their research led them to the way sound reverberates in natural spaces, such as caves. Having designed other theaters and concert halls, they knew the challenge was to create a space with excellent acoustics but without introducing additional sound-absorbing materials. Working with acoustic engineers, they designed the openings in the building, which play a role in both damping sound and linking to the outdoor environment.
We were very aware of the responsibility we had to contribute a thoughtful structure that fits naturally into such a unique landscape. We wanted to create something different and, more importantly, something meaningful. We are now at a time when the question of our relationship with nature as human beings is more acute than ever. Can we be humble enough to hear what nature is whispering to us? The symphony of nature is what we really wanted people to experience here. – OPEN Architecture
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Project by: OPEN Architecture
Client: Aranya International Cultural Development Co., Ltd.
Location: Chengde, Hebei, China
Site area: 790 mq
Program: Semi-outdoor Amphitheater, Green Room, Viewing Terrace, Outdoor Stage