Locally sourced bamboo and adobe bricks make up the new Meditation Cathedral & Sunset Sala, a cluster of organically shaped buildings on top of a hill in northern Chiang Mai. Commissioned by Khunying Noi, a member of the Thai royal family, the net-zero carbon project provides the client with a space to enjoy the sunset with loved ones as well as a meditation cathedral for the Buddhist community. Chiangmai Life Architects designed the mountain-inspired buildings with construction carried out by Chiangmai Life Construction craftspeople who mainly comprise locals as well as Thai Yai who fled the Burmese army’s minority prosecution campaigns.
Completed in 2018 in the small town of Mae Rim, the Meditation Cathedral & Sunset Sala was initially planned as a simple ‘sala’ — a type of open pavilion in Thai architecture — for enjoying the sunset from a hilltop location. Because Khunying Noi is a practicing Buddhist and active member in the Buddhist community, she later asked the architects to add a dedicated meditation space along with a freestanding bathroom area. This area includes showers and toilets; the architects also inserted a smaller, mushroom-shaped structure to house the mechanical and electrical systems, including a water tank.
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“The design of all buildings emulates the mountain range and the rolling hills,” said the architects, who constructed the project with adobe walls and bamboo roofs. “Thus, the buildings mold into the scenery as if they grew there themselves.”
The Buddhist meditation space features lofty arched ceilings built of bundled bamboo to mimic the domes of Roman or Gothic cathedrals. The architects mainly used bamboo of the Thyrsostachus genus along with Dendrocalamus asper and Bambusa spp species. The bamboo stalks were selected by age and then preserved with a borax/boric acid solution. Once treated, the bamboo is left to dry and cure to ensure long-term durability as a construction material.
Photography by Markus Roselieb via Chiangmai Life Architects