A cavern offering contemplation, reflection and reverence of figures and times past: a ‘Ship to Heaven’ commemorating those who lost their lives whilst or after serving in the Royal Australian Navy.
Reclaimed timber symbolising old sorrows and new hopes, sandstone for timelessness. Born from the generating idea of ‘Inversion’, the ceiling forms an inverted timber hull, majestically held high by timber masts bearing on heavenly white stone.
The sandstone and recycled timber altar, at the ‘bow of the ship’, is defined by beams of light. Elsewhere, lighting is inverted, diffused at ceiling level but shining brightly on the white sandstone floor.
The contemplative space is enclosed by articulated wall panels of timber. Images of ships emerge mystically from the grain to meet a heavenly gleam, small alcoves reveal names of large stature.
Above all, a dome of wooden waves shifting silently through time.
Situated on the ground floor within a building of environmental significance on the unclaimed part of Garden Island, the Chapel of Remembrance is linked both spiritually and physically to the Naval Chapel above by a grand reclaimed timber staircase contained in the restored vestibule. The demolition of the modern and impractical spiral stair was followed by the creation of a ‘floating’ structure, rectilinear in configuration with thirty four risers and four landings. Construction of the stair, vestibule and the Chapel of Remembrance was completed for the 25 August 1996 Service of Dedication of the Chapel of Remembrance and the Memorial Plaque to Families, approximately one year after the colour restoration of the Naval Chapel.
For the conservation architect, DAS Interiors Australia, the project offered a conceptual journey. The challenge was not to recreate the past but to create a new present anchored in history. Reclaimed and recycled timbers, aged over one hundred years and requiring techniques that are not common practice today, were moulded into new forms sympathetic with the heritage nature of the building. Details were simplified, and simplified again, to allow the organic and environmental qualities of stone and wood to dominate the symbolism.
Those involved in the realisation of the Chapel, including the Naval Chaplaincy, were partners in this journey through design. As a result, the Chapel of Remembrance is an experience of images, memories and hopes for all who collaborated in its design, and all who will visit in the future.
Conservation work is a voyage of discovery fraught with the perils of the unknown. For the project manager, DAS Asset Services, including their own trade staff and subcontractors, the project was no exception. Demolition of modern structures within the space designated for the Chapel revealed a large masonry column which could not be removed. First seen as an impediment, then a challenge, the immoveable column ultimately became an integral part of the design, bearing a stained glass commemoration. The conceptual journey extended to the Chapel’s realisation.
Throughout the project, painstaking and uncompromising diligence matched the spirit of concepts and ideas. The project represented a labour of love as well as an intellectual translation for all involved. In these days of diminishing resources and growing awareness of the need to recognise our rich heritage, the use of reclaimed and recycled timbers offers the creative scope of work with historical fabric in creating new forms. The timbers themselves, embodying their own character and history, are inherently sympathetic with the heritage nature of buildings of environmental significance. Their use ensures that an environmentally aware discipline pervades an entire project.
All timbers used in the Chapel of Remembrance are either reclaimed or recycled and are generally over one hundred years in age. Wall panelling was milled from a rare reclaimed log of Australian cedar found in Bowral. The pillars or ‘masts’ are carved from reclaimed rosewood logs found in Mullumbimby. Ceiling timbers consist of recycled oregon laminated beams and recycled kauri ribs from the Grace Bros site in Broadway. The altar stone is topped with carved and shaped red ironbark floor joists from the site. The top of the reception table located in the vestibule is also made from the same red ironbark together with Tasmanian oak stair treads recycled from the removed spiral stair. The base of the reception table is made up from various recycled hardwoods. Chairs with leather seats are made from a combination of recycled blackbutt, Australian red cedar, western red cedar and maple.