Sacred Stories: The Buddhist Meditation Centre

How a group of Dutch Buddhists came to meditate in a thirteen-bedroom mansard barn in rural Europe
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The Buddhist Meditation Centre Metta Vihara, by Bureau SLA, Hengstdijk, The Netherlands, 2012. Photo by Jeroen Musch
The Buddhist Meditation Centre Metta Vihara, by Bureau SLA, Hengstdijk, The Netherlands, 2012. Photo by Jeroen Musch

There can’t be many architectural briefs that ask for a building to be beautiful, yet not overly comfortable. Nevertheless, this was among the requirements outlined by the ecumenical religious group, the Triratna Buddhist Community, when it commissioned Dutch practice Bureau SLA to design this place in 2012.

The Buddhists wanted a building in Hengstdijk, a Dutch village near Belgian border, where they could retreat for periods of uninterrupted contemplation. As author James Pallister explains in our new book, Sacred Spaces, Buddhism is not an especially popular religion in this part of the world, and, aside from Trirata’s instructions, there were no clear, local traditions to follow.

 

The Buddhist Meditation Centre Metta Vihara, by Bureau SLA, Hengstdijk, The Netherlands. Photo by Jeroen Musch
The Buddhist Meditation Centre Metta Vihara, by Bureau SLA, Hengstdijk, The Netherlands. Photo by Jeroen Musch

Instead, Bureau SLA chose to adapt agricultural styles found in in this part of Europe. In essence this meditation centre takes its form from the classic mansard-roofed barns that can be seen across rural Western Europe. Materials too, were similar to those used in farm buildings, with corrugated sheeting resting on a simple timber frame.

The paired-down aesthetic is apt for a religion where followers try to cast off any ties to material possessions, yet the low-cost approach suited the Triratna Buddhist Community well, as they weren’t fantastically well-financed, and wanted to accommodate thirteen bedrooms into this modest building. Nonetheless, this adapted out-building style of SLA’s design suits both the Buddhist’s requirements for an unadorned setting, and while remaining within the aesthetic expectations of the local community. In sticking closely to local traditions, SLA proved just how harmonious and multicultural rural Europe can be.

 

The Buddhist Meditation Centre Metta Vihara, by Bureau SLA, Hengstdijk, The Netherlands. Photo by Jeroen Musch
The Buddhist Meditation Centre Metta Vihara, by Bureau SLA, Hengstdijk, The Netherlands. Photo by Jeroen Musch

We hope you've enjoyed this sacred story, taken from our new book Sacred Spaces. You can read about how a German farmer's friends and faith helped inspired Peter Zumthor's Bruder Klaus Field Chapel here; how an Italian practice brought opposing religions together in this Sudanese Prayer and Meditation Pavilion; and about the building of this ingenious Indian crematorium here. You can order a copy of the book from the people who made it, here.

Also, you might also be interested to know that this centre appears in the Phaidon Atlas, our peerless architectural resource. You can sign up here for a free trial here.


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