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Bosjes Chapel, an architectural masterpiece floating in a valley - South Africa

Bosjes Chapel, an architectural masterpiece floating in a valley

Zaha Hadid once said that architecture should be able to “excite you, calm you and make you think”. The newly completed Bosjes Chapel does just that and is arguably the pièce de resistance of the Boland.

From a distance you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Sydney Opera House had relocated to the Breede River Valley and up close the wave of white has imaginations running wild. Some see it as a manta ray gliding gracefully underwater, or liken it to a great bird suspended mid flight. Whatever the interpretation, the chapel is a masterpiece that has people in awe and waxing lyrical.

Coetzee Steyn is the visionary behind the structure that is located on the R43 towards Ceres on a family owned working farm called Bosjes, meaning Little Bushes. Based in London with his firm Steyn Studio, he worked closely on the complex project with TV3 Architects and Henry Fagan + Partners in Cape Town. Throughout the two-year construction period, constant communication between all parties and regular site inspections ensured that the client’s brief was meticulously upheld. Steyn was tasked with designing a place of worship and locale underpinned by Psalm 36:7, “how priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings,” a verse that adds poetry to the form. Looking for simplicity, he drew some inspiration from the Moravian mission churches of the 1800’s in Mamre and Wupperthal, their white lit interiors and absence of traditional papal paraphernalia evoking a sense of lightness and tranquillity. The same calm energy pervades the chapel at Bosjes. 

The undulations of the cast iron roof give the building its fluidity, complementing the curls of ‘holbol’ gables so typical of old Cape Dutch manor houses and in sync with the style of the original Bosjes farmhouse that was built in1790 and still stands today, beautifully restored.  The ripple effect also echoes the peaks and valleys of the nearby mountain ranges and the raised tips on each side reaching up into the sky give the impression of wings in motion. At dusk, the chapel looks like it’s floating, an illusion created in part by two strategically positioned reflection ponds out front and by its slight elevation on a plinth that adds to the sense of weightlessness.

Steyn says that he wanted the 120 seater chapel to have a tactile quality to it. “I have strong childhood memories of running my hands along the powdery uneven lime washed walls of my grandfather’s farmhouse,” he added. The smooth exterior definitely elicits that response from many. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow for the shifting play of natural light and frame the dreamy views over the surrounding vineyards and gardens. When designing the latter, Herman de Lange of cndv landscape architects incorporated water features, pergolas, pathways and atmospheric lighting into an environment encouraging exploration and contemplation. Each space is a subtle reference to Biblical elements or events such as the huge water feature that’s symbolic of the Parting of the Red Sea and the winding walkway up the koppie called Mount Sinai that overlooks the entire property.

Inside the chapel the atmosphere is airy and the interior, designed by Liam Mooney, is unfussy, leaving no challenge to the scenic outlook.  Mooney also did the décor for the Kombuis restaurant and Die Skuur, Bosjes’ luxurious guest house.

Seeing the Bosjes Chapel is almost a religious experience in itself. It is a work of art that is an ode to divinity and a celebration of creation. The Bosjes Chapel, Kombuis, Teehuis and gardens opens officially today, 15 March 2017.  

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A former ballerina, I am now a Cape Town based publicist specialising in the entertainment industry. One of my major passions is travel, in my city & around the world, keeping an eye on ethical tourism as I go. Explore more. That's all.

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