James Gorst temple wins AJ Design of the Year

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Location New Lands, Liss, Hampshire • Completion October 2022 • Construction cost Undisclosed • Gross internal floor area 585m• Client The White Eagle Lodge • Engineer Eckersley O’Callaghan • Services engineer Skelly & Couch • Annual carbon emissions 25.9 kgCO2/m2 • Operational energy use 51.16 kWh/m2/yr

The magic in this scheme, however, lies in the design of its key focal point – the temple itself. A highly complex form and construction, golden ratio and platonic solid geometries were used to inform its proportions, in addition to geomantic qualities derived from the site. Its plan is generated from both a circle and square. A 12m-diameter circle determines the inner temple and is enclosed by a pendentive structure supporting a lantern and dome on arched openings, akin to Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque churches.

Its incredibly rationalised plan is organised as a series of orthogonal, timber-framed pavilions connected by a cloistered walkway facing onto a central courtyard garden. The internal arrangement follows an identifiable progression from secular to ritual space, moving from timber portico and foyer at the eastern entrance, through to the main temple space in the west. 

The scheme’s subtle and contextual materiality takes inspiration from an ancient pathway and surrounding landscape of clay beds and chalk streams. It is entirely timber-framed with a facing clay brickwork set within chalk lime mortar. Entirely self-finished, the material selection creates a harmonious palette of tones.

More from: ‘Pure architecture’: James Gorst temple wins AJ Design of the Year

But this project is not just about beautiful architecture. It demonstrates an exceptional approach to passive design and long-term sustainability. Heating is provided by a ground source heat pump buried in the landscape and powered by a photovoltaic panel array on site. All foul waste is purified onsite using biomass in a buried treatment plant before being discharged into the landscape.

Putting its programme aside, this is pure architecture at its best. As I wrote in May this year after visiting the scheme, as one might expect of a project impelled by a certain idealism and for which luxury is for once afforded, the construction of this project is near-perfect – something rarely seen in new-build architecture. It’s unusual, also, to see such strict mathematical and spiritual methodology used as a device for contemporary architectural design and that’s what makes this project so interesting and deserving of its award. It sets a target for the industry: to think more within which limits you are designing to create a building that is truly contextual.  

This new-build scheme, which is open to the public, ‘comprises a temple, library, chapels and multi-use community hall within landscaped grounds. Commissioned by The White Eagle Lodge, a non-denominational multi-faith spiritual organisation, it is located on the spur of a hillside projecting westwards with expansive views across the South Downs National Park. 


An innovative raised floor slab provides passive cooling to the internal spaces, with fresh air supplied by two underground labyrinth ventilation systems, while high-level actuators in the temple clerestory allow warm air to escape. Any energy needed to facilitate the ongoing use of the building has been kept to a minimum.