In 2013, Walters & Cohen won a competition run by the London Buddhist Centre (LBC) to refurbish and extend the Vajrasana Buddhist Retreat Centre in Suffolk. The LBC's ambitions were to increase capacity from 34 to 60 people, create a new meditation room and improve accessibility.
The retreat's many guests include Buddhists, carers on respite, and those dealing with stress, addiction and anxiety. The client's vision was for a serene, beautiful centre that improves health and wellbeing, and enhances the spiritual life of the community. This is achieved with the scale and quality of the new buildings: simple materials and local techniques create a balance between a modest architecture and reverence of the spiritual spaces. Integration with the landscape is fundamental to the aesthetic and sense of serenity and contemplation.
The Sangha (community) courtyard creates Vajrasana's social heart. Single-storey, charred timber buildings wrap around it to provide communal living and dining rooms and bedroom pods. The pitched roof design draws light and air into these rooms, providing a generous sense of space. A dark, multi-toned brick envelops the shrine room, meditative Stupa courtyard and serene Akshobya courtyard. The Stupa, an important symbol of Buddhism, was designed by LBC members and has a sculptural quality that changes with the light of the day. In the shrineroom rays of light stream through the high windows, but here there are fewer distractions, making it easier to focus on the Dharma and meditation.
The LBC community was consulted to fine-tune the brief and remained informed and involved throughout the construction process.
The project was shortlisted for the 2016 WAF Awards (Religion), and is currently shortlisted for the RIBA East Awards.