Belarusian Memorial Chapel

Belarusian Memorial Chapel

When the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl exploded in 1986, it devastated the land and people of Belarus with radioactive fallout, contaminating a quarter of the country. A new timber chapel commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of that terrible event, which forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes and land and settle elsewhere.

When the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl exploded in 1986, it devastated the land and people of Belarus with radioactive fallout, contaminating a quarter of the country. A new timber chapel commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of that terrible event, which forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes and land and settle elsewhere. Many came to the UK, joining other Belarusians who had been displaced by the country’s turbulent past – by persecution, suppression and the ravages of the Second World War, in which a quarter of the Belarusian population was killed. Many Belarusians settled in the north London suburb of Woodside Park and in 1948 a community and cultural centre for the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church in London, Marian House, was established. The new chapel, designed by Spheron Architects, stands in the grounds of Marian House, a parkland landscape of protected mature trees. It is the first timber church to be built in London since the Great Fire of 1666 and the use of timber has a historic and cultural significance; a reminder of the traumatic loss after Chernobyl of many Belarusian settlements whose houses and churches were nearly all built of timber. Tszwai So, director of Spheron Architects, visited Belarus to study and sketch the remaining traditional churches at first hand. The result of his observations are present in the new chapel which incorporates all the essential elements of a traditional Belarusian church; timber structure and weatherboard cladding, an onion-dome bell tower with a bell donated by the monks of Chevetogne Abbey, and a pitched roof clad with cedar shakes. Inside the chapel, a simple single-storey nave faces the iconostasis where traditional icons are displayed. The material palette is closely restricted to timber and glass, reflecting the austere and tranquil beauty of traditional timber churches in Belarus. Yet the chapel is not just a basic traditional form, a series of contemporary elements has been introduced by the architect, such as the undulating set of vertical timber boards which line the external side walls. In the interiors of traditional Belarusian churches the structural timber frame is generally visible; the chapel also has a timber frame but the small scale of the building suggested to the architect that the interior surfaces should be clean and simple, lined with with cross-laminated (CLT) panels to create a warm cocoon-like timber interior.

More case studies

In 2015, the architectural practice Squire and Partners purchased a dilapidated three storey department store in the centre of Brixton.

In 2019 an explosion of colour appeared on the sedate lawn of Dulwich Picture Gallery. It was the Colour Palace, a timber pavilion painted in exuberant geometric patterns and stripes in a kaleidoscope of zinging neon colours.