The Golden Wedding Chapel

Situated above the derelict ‘Techatticup’ Gold Mine outside Las Vegas, The Golden Wedding Chapel is an architectural reaction to the notoriously impulsive, superficial and synthetic Vegas wedding culture. Influenced by the city’s international status as the wedding capital of the World which already boasts hundreds of chapels all unique in their appeal, from Elvis or broadway musicals, to those open 24 hours and even the classic ‘Drive-thru’ ceremony where couples need not leave their car. The new chapel is a contemporary intervention which seeks to develop a new architectural language and programme for couples whilst attempting to rethink what marriage has become.

Keen to distance itself from Sin City, the chapel is built a short drive away from Vegas amongst the few shattered remnants of the once thriving gold industry of the 19th Century. The Techatticup Mine, located in the Eldorado Canyon NV, was one of the most profitable gold mines in the US—complete with a long ‘wild-west’ history of murderers, gangs and robberies—until WWII. In 1941 when America joined the war effort the miners suddenly dropped tools to start mining essential metals for the US military, but what they left behind was an unprocessed heap of mineral rich rock that was recently found to contain around $7m worth of gold.

The programme combines both wedding and gold industry—inspired by the ancient tradition of a wedding ring symbolising eternity—the culture here strips away the prolific consumerist qualities and returns marriage to its true meaning. Quarrying the gold from the deposit below the wedding chapel, a resident goldsmith makes an individual ring for every couple that reaches the mine. The couples have now left behind Vegas and have entered into a separate space which exposes the true nature of materials and rawness of the goldsmithing process; rejecting the Vegas obsession of pastiche façades and creating artificial ‘culture’.

Built on a large concrete raft frame supported by piles, the mineral deposit is gradually excavated from below the building, leaving a visual datum to be exposed over the 60 years’ worth of material left on site. As each sample is removed, the excess rock is then mixed with concrete and forms a single block for each couple which is then placed in the chapel walls as a lasting reminder of their day. This extraction and goldsmithing process takes place in the pit that is left exposed, so visitors witness this craft unfolding below their feet. The grille floors and church pews are all hung from a structure via steel cables so the floor becomes an unobstructed viewing platform and also allows the dust to rise through this great space.

Although not imagined as a place of worship, the wedding chapel is strongly influenced by the rich history of ecclesiastical architecture, but is also combined with the rough industrial vernacular the surrounds the site. The symmetrical plan, split into two wings representing the bride and the groom, adopts a circulation plan determined by traditional wedding processions found in ancient church history. As the congregation arrives they enter an antechamber which forms a symbolic separation with the outside world, before moving through to the sacred space of the chapel. The alter is a newly cut sheer façade in the mountainside with a tunnel connecting to the mine shafts beyond, enclosed by large golden gate interpreting the form of a Rood screen. Below the chapel is the suspended banquet hall with hung benches and tables which forms the intimate, crypt-like space for celebrations.

Once complete the building would imaginably be almost ‘readable’ with layers upon layers of blocks built over 60 years, all varying in colour and tone. Whilst the huge mineral deposit is etched away at removing the deposit ‘scar’ on an ancient landscape, the chapel marks a datum above ground, embodying through its monolithic and monumental nature this much celebrated and integral sense of time.

All images courtesy of Simon Wimble.