Once upon a time, I got married on a beach. It was silly and fun except for the sand, which was a literal pain in the ass. Perhaps I could have avoided that pain–and all the pain that followed–had we waited until 2017, when the Beijing-based studio Vector Architects built this chapel on a beach in Beidaihe, a resort town with views to China’s Bohai Sea.
The stark white building floats nine feet over the beach and the shallow waters characteristic of this part of the Chinese coast. Coronated by a roof with an extreme slope, the building’s altar sits against a wide glass wall that occupies the entire ocean-facing facade. A door gives visitors access to a sprawling terrace that looks out to the sea, and its raised first floor protects it from rising tides. The building is futuristic without detracting from its paradisiacal setting; its sculptural concrete facade nods to several other chapels–like SOM’s iconic USAF Academy Cadet Chapel with its similarly steepled roof, and Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut, which shares the building’s swooping, white-washed forms.
[Photo: Chen Hao]Beidaihe itself has a fascinating history: This beach town has been the preferred destination for China’s political elite ever since Mao Zedong spent his vacations there. Chairman Mao kept his very own bungalow there–but of course, there were no beachside chapels, since Christianity and other religions were heavily persecuted. Even today, Xi Jinping‘s government still exerts control over religion, demolishing one large mega-church as recently as January. Xi, too, uses Beidaihe as a “summer summit.”
Vector’s chapel offers visitors a place to contemplate the sea as well as worship. Of course, paradise can as ephemeral as a beach marriage. Not pictured behind the chapel? Beidaihe’s sprawl, towering like China’s own Atlantic City. JD