Acorn Chapel of the Hands

The Client is a Presbyterian Church with its ministry immersed in the rural community of Clevedon, south east of Auckland, New Zealand. The village, located on a cultivated river plain, was settled in 1853 and was historically sustained by the steamer “Hirere”, travelling from Auckland via the Hauraki Gulf to Clevedon Wharf at the headwaters of the meandering Wairoa River.

The brief includes a Chapel, a Recital Auditorium, a Community Hall, two separate Cafés, Family Ministry, Administration, and Early Childhood Education spaces, with the Church at the heart of the programme.

The site is defined by the creation of a north-west facing “domain”, defined by three avenues of trees. The domain adjoins a rural highway to the north-west and has an axial relationship with the oblique road linking the site back to Clevedon Village.

The site is organised around two intersecting pathways, which link a walkway from a new residential subdivision to a body of water lying to the north; and traverse the site from east to west. This transverse axis reflects the edge of a 40m deep, landscaped margin, set back from the highway. The secular facilities are assembled to the south of the pedestrian walkway, with just the Chapel intruding into the “green” park. A tree-lined, “shared-space” street provides axial ceremonial access to the Chapel for weddings and funerals.

Initial investigations focussed purely on light reflected off curved surfaces – these diagrams suggested the form of hands on plan. Paired hands may express worship, exalting, offering, seeking, reaching, greeting, enfolding, embracing. The idea of defining religious space using symbolic hands is developed by Auguste Rodin in “The Cathedral” sculpted in 1908. In this instance, the ministry of the Church is so deeply focussed in the community that the “hands” were orientated horizontally; then “handed” on both axes to reflect the universal inclusiveness offered by the Church.

The envelope of the Chapel is created by two major components – a cross-section through the hull of a traditionally constructed timber vessel; and a pleated white shroud that envelopes the craft with folded walls and roof surfaces. The shroud is kept entirely separate from the “vessel” and the ground plane, admitting light through the apertures created between them, precluding views to the exterior except where intended. The east and west walls of the vessel provide structural support, baptistry, quiet rooms, storage and plant room spaces. The exterior end elevations are glazed, suggesting transparency, revealing the structure; and stepped in section to admit fresh air to the plant rooms.

The composition sits on a plinth of local stone, moored to the transverse walkway, separated by a baptismal court and surrounded by a shallow, reflecting pool of water.

The structure is entirely pre-fabricated steel, assembled on the remote site, composed of portals and triangulated trusses for both walls and roof. These trusses are clad externally with moulded GRC panels and lined internally to exactly match the form of the exterior. A profiled, hollow bronze cross is expressed externally at the intersection of the folded wall planes and the axial street, with the aperture casting an image of light across the internal surfaces.

The envelope is elevated from the plinth, creating transparency at human scale, so that light is reflected off the water into the Chapel interior as the sun traverses from east to west.

The congregation is connected to the natural world by the view of the water and the silhouette of the encircling hills, defining the distant perimeter of the river valley.




Project Team

Lindsay Mackie
Tim Graham
Kate Morland
Sean Park



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