Waterfall Chapel

ImageLove makes the difference.




Love is not possessive. It delights in the beloved. Architects who love a site do not seek to consume it with their architecture. The Waterfall Chapel is lost in the landscape so that you can walk by without realising it is even there. However when you enter the simple, humble space the landscape is revealed through the eyes of a lover.

Love rejoices. Every architect has a treasure house where lengths of timber which they love more than all the others. or fragments of exquisite stone, are waiting for some moment when their use will be justified.

The Waterfall Chapel builders speak with affection of finding stored in their barn several perfectly straight 7M lengths of four by two which had been put to one side because they were too good to cut. It seemed as though so many other materials had also been waiting for the chapel to happen. Synchronicity does not adequately describe that sense of rightness and inevitability which is the hallmark of true architecture.

Love always catches you by surprise. The search for found objects needs the openness of a love which is delighted by the unexpected. The door handle was lying neglected in a corner of the farm. An old axle pivots the massive door perfectly. There was exactly the right amount of timber to make seven pews with nothing left over. The simplicity of their form springs from an understanding of "zero-waste architecture". Enough, but nothing superfluous. Desire is insatiable. Love is satisfied.

A lover gives power away. It can be a risky enterprise. How can you know that someone will take an assortment of timbers and use them to paint a picture or tell a story? The role of the architect is however to turn everyone into a lover. If drawings speak of love they will achieve more than any regulations because they will make it possible for others to see beyond their horizons.

Love is a way of seeing, not a point at which you arrive. It is a way of going about building. Le Thoronet is first an act of love, and only then a work of great architecture.

A church is not just another building type. It rather gives form to a theological position. The primary Judeo/Christian theological statement is, in the words of Genesis, "God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good".

The Waterfall Chapel is an act of faith and love, rather than an architectural object. It is as unique as the dream from which it was born. It is as idiosyncratic as the people who realised that dream.

With pride all those who through their involvement have made the chapel their own say that it is indeed very good. They are right. We might learn much from their love.

Tony Watkins

 "Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people's sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. Love does not come to an end."

The first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. 13, verses 4-8

This article was first published in Architecture New Zealand 2005