Vajrasana Buddhist Retreat Centre

Serene and uplifting retreat centre, embedded in the landscape and built in the spirit of collaboration

In 2013 Walters & Cohen won a competition run by the London Buddhist Centre (LBC) to redesign Vajrasana Buddhist Retreat Centre in Suffolk. The LBC's ambitions were to increase capacity from 24 to 60 people, create a new shrine room and improve accessibility.

The retreat's many guests include Buddhists, carers on respite, and those dealing with stress, addiction and anxiety. The client's vision was for a serene, beautiful centre that improves health and wellbeing, and enhances the spiritual life of the community. This is achieved with the scale and quality of the new buildings: simple materials and local techniques create a balance between a modest architecture and reverence of the spiritual spaces. Integration with the landscape is fundamental to the aesthetic and sense of serenity and contemplation.

The Sangha (community) courtyard creates Vajrasana's social heart. Single-storey, charred timber buildings wrap around it to provide communal living and dining rooms and bedroom pods. The pitched roof design draws light and air into these rooms, providing a generous sense of space. A dark, multi-toned brick envelops the shrine room, meditative Stupa courtyard and serene Akshobhya courtyard. The Stupa, an important symbol of Buddhism, was designed by LBC members and has a sculptural quality that changes with the light of the day. In the shrine room rays of light stream through the high windows, but here there are fewer distractions, making it easier to focus on the Dharma and meditation.

The LBC community was consulted to fine-tune the brief and remained informed and involved throughout construction.

The project was named RIBA East's Building of the Year 2017 and has won several other awards: an AJ Architecture Award, a RIBA East Award, a RIBA National Award and an Honor Award at the Faith & Form/IFRAA Awards 2017. In 2018 it won a Civic Trust Award and was shortlisted for their Selwyn Goldsmith Award for Universal Design.


2017RIBA National Awards

2018Civic Trust Awards – award winner

2018Civic Trust Awards: Selwyn Goldsmith Award for Universal Design – shortlisted

2017RIBA East Awards

2017RIBA East Awards – Building of the Year

2017Faith & Form Awards (sponsored by AIA) – Honor Award

2017AJ Architecture Awards, Community and Faith Project of the Year

2016WAF Awards, Religion Category – shortlisted


ClientLondon Buddhist Centre and Pure Land Ltd

Total value£4.1m

CompletionMay 2016

Area1,210 m2

QSHolloway Squire Partnership

ContractorSEH French

Structural engineerPrice & Myers

Building ServicesSkelly & Couch

LandscapeBradley-Hole Schoenaich Landscape

LightingSpeirs and Major

Presentation modelBullfrog Models

Additional video (of cherry blossom)Joana Rzepa