Oasis of Calm

The Winner of Winners at the Structural Timber Awards was the New Temple Complex, designed by architects James Gorst and used timber technology to its fullest potential in a special setting.

Created for the White Eagle Lodge – a non-denominational multi-faith spiritual group – the new building comprises a temple, library, chapels, meeting spaces, foyer and catering kitchen organised as a series of pavilions around a central planted courtyard. The project brief required minimising the building's impact on the environment, embracing the natural landscape and simultaneously accommodating sacred and secular community use.

The brief was established following three years of measured, contemplative consultation with the client, building users and the local community.

Located on the spur of a hillside with expansive views across the South Downs National Park, the new temple is grounded on what is believed to be an ancient ley line connecting Chapel Common to the old nunnery of Lyss Place. The rationalised plan is organised as a series of orthogonal, timber framed pavilions connected by a cloistered walkway, facing onto a central courtyard garden. The building demonstrates an exemplar approach to passive design and sustainability. The design team adopted a 'fabric-first' approach to the build, with the main structural frame constructed offsite from engineered timber, following analytical testing to eliminate the need for steelwork.

Employing a fully engineered timber frame alone, the whole life carbon was calculated at 265kgCO2eq/m2, saving up to 30 tons of embodied carbon from using regenerative materials – a key project driver. This model was then used for the design and full co-ordination of the timber frame connection details prior to manufacture, to design-out construction waste and eliminate the need for visible fixings. Offsite precision fabrication was utilised to further reduce waste and the use of engineered timber ultimately facilitated the elimination of steel from the structural frame.

The spruce and Siberian larch glulam structural frame is FSC certified, with plywood sheet materials PEFC certified. Internal timber is sustainably sourced Ash, supplied 11 miles from the site and is certified 'Grown in Britain'.


The internal arrangement follows a progression from secular to ritual spaces, moving from a timber portico and social foyer at the visitor entrance in the east, through to the main temple space in the west. The open, multi-faith building takes inspiration from the historic sixteenth century Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar.

With a square plan with entrances on each of the cardinal points, the principal sacred space is designed to welcome visitors from all faiths and from the four corners of the world. An ancient pathway known as The Shipwright's Way runs beside the site, passing clay beds and chalk streams, following a Tudor pathway used to transport by timber from an ancient oak forest to the shipbuilding city of Portsmouth. The building makes use of each of these materials. The resulting spaces allow for contemplation and encourage a spiritual connection to the surrounding landscape.

Low energy targets and renewable energy sources were also essential to the project brief. To meet these requirements the building includes on-site power generation (using a photovoltaic array) which powers sustainable heating (via a ground source heat pump) and innovative passive cooling was incorporated to reduce the energy demand within the two congregation spaces. Enhancement of the external community landscaped gardens allowed the team to incorporate regenerative design principles. As part of the landscaped reorganisation of the site over 1,100sqm of hardstanding tarmac road was removed and replaced with wildflower meadow and landscaped gardens.

Heating is provided by a ground source heat pump that is buried in the landscape powered from a photovoltaic panel array located on-site. An innovative raised floor slab provides passive cooling to the internal spaces with fresh air supplied by an underground labyrinth ventilation system, while high level actuators in the temple clerestory allow warm air to escape. The principal facade of the temple incorporates air intake grilles within seating alcoves in the brickwork at ground level, where air is drawn into the building as part of the cooling strategy. Above this at high level the timber clerestory employs deep engineered timber fins on the facade with set-back glazing units, incorporating high specification low g-value glass to minimise overheating.

The building sits perfectly in its surroundings and the use of timber throughout creates a natural, peaceful and serene feel to the finished building. Alongside the wider energy efficient approach, it is a truly inspirational piece of contemporary design, engineering and construction.

IMAGES: New Temple Complex is a superb example of timber design and technology in a natural setting. Courtesy James Gorst Architects


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