Vajrasana Buddhist Retreat

Walters & Cohen Architects, Walsham-le-Willows, 2016


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Entrance to the retreat 

Jim Stephenson     Download Original

  • Entrance to the retreat    
  • A covered cloister-like walkway    
  • The gardens and courtyards are carefully composed    
  • In one courtyard sits a large white limestone stupa monument    
  • Native trees were used in the landscaping    
  • A cast bronze Buddha sits atop a lotus flower    
  • The shrine room    
  • High-level windows allow a view out to the sky but do not draw the gaze out to the landscape    
  • Dining area    
  • Site plan    
  • Ground floor plan    
  • Long section    
  • North elevation    
  • South elevation    
  • Detail section through shrine room external wall    

Walters & Cohen has designed a Suffolk retreat for The London Buddhist Centre.

The practice’s design for Vajrasana evolves around three concepts or ‘jewels’ common to Buddhism but particularly closely adhered to by the Triratna community: Sangha, Dharma and Buddha. These three ideas inform the spaces of the retreat – each distinct from the other – and provide a processional route based around the geometry of the spaces and the movement towards the final religious space.

Sangha – representing community – is the first space you encounter: a series of low-rise buildings placed around a lushly planted courtyard. These contain a large dining area, living spaces and shared bedrooms accommodating about 60 guests at any one time.

A concrete portal frame creates the double-height space of the dining room; it is simply lined with painted blockwork and clad on the outside in charred timber.

From the Sangha courtyard a covered cloister-like walkway leads to a further two courtyards representing the Dharma, or path to enlightenment. In one courtyard sits a large white limestone stupa monument, while in the other a cast bronze Buddha sits atop a lotus flower, appearing to float in a rectangular pool of water. Separated from the Sangha courtyard by a perforated screen of bricks, these spaces are quieter and more introspective, though they still provide views out towards the surrounding landscape.

These courtyards lead on to the shrine room, where a 3m-tall gold-coloured Buddha sits on a plinth. Built from a dark, almost rust-coloured Belgian brick and with a timber floor, the space feels close to nature. The room is used for spiritual celebrations, meditation and yoga classes.


  • Begun: Feb 2015
  • Completed: May 2016
  • Floor area: 1,050m2
  • Total cost: £3.7M
  • Procurement: JCT standard building contract with quantities
  • CO2 Emissions: 63.8kg/m2/year
  • Address: Potash Farm, Walsham-le-Willows, IP31 3AR, United Kingdom

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