Tao’s temples are in harmony with nature
Young architect’s first project was a huge success
Designing a temple is different from coming up with a plan for a residential complex in that you have to also imagine that God is living there, saidTaoJin, a Beijing-based architect.
Tao, 33, is with the Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University in Beijing. He has specialized in the designing of religious buildings after his first project — the Taoist Deyouguan Temple on Maoshan Mountain, Jiangsu province— turned out to be a huge success.
He also won an award from the German magazine Bauwelt for the new design of the temple. The original temple, built during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), was destroyed by the invading Japanese troops during the 1937-1945 war.
Tao, a converted Taoist, said the design of religious buildings in the East and theWest, and across different religions is essentially the same.
“The metaphor is that the God is living there, and you have to show your theological considerations through the design of form, space and ambience,” he said.
“We also need to understand specifically the meaning of sacred space within the temple.”
Meanwhile, the design must also take into consideration the needs of clergies living in the monasteries or temples as well.
“If we are to design a monastery where 20 monks are going to live, we need to consider how many bedrooms are needed, how big the storage room needs to be and how to fit in plumbing, heating and electricity in the structure,” he said.
In designing the new Deyouguan, Tao did not restore the temple to its A picture of the Deyouguan Temple original appearance. Instead, hetried to incorporate both the idea of the original design and modern architectural concepts to rebuild the temple.
“It is impossible to design and build temples exactly the way they were. No matter how much efforts you put into it, they would still look like a replica,” he said.
Tao said he was inclined to preserve the original site of the old temple, and build a new one with a design that borrows the idea of the old one.
“This way, there can be interaction between the new temple and the old one,” he said.
However, for him and his colleagues, the dilemma usually lies in that many religious leaders have a special fondness for antique-looking One of the pillars and luxurious replicas of ancient buildings.
In Wuxi, Jiangsu province, authorities spent more than 1.6 billion yuan ($240 million) to develop the opulent Fan Gong Palace, the venue of theWorld Buddhist Forum in 2009 and 2015. There are also at least six Buddha statues that are as tall as 50 to 100 meters in various parts of China.
“They like Buddha statues in gigantic sizes, and large temples decorated with luxurious colors. The more antique-looking, the better,” Tao said.
The hunger for building replicas has been fueled by advances in construction technology as it has enabled the creation of much larger religious structures than before.
“What they actually do is to use reinforced concrete to mould fake replicas of ancient buildings. Some projects would reduce forests and hills to the ground to make room for the newbuilding,” he said.
“It is totally against the traditional concepts of Buddhism and Taoism as both religions promote harmony with nature, rather than destroying nature,” he said.
Tao has nurtured a special interest in religious buildings since his childhood, when he would ride a bicycle to roam around the temples and monasteries in Beijing and read books about the history and architecture of old religious buildings.
He published his first article on the history of a Taoist building in Beijing during his high school years.
“I like Taoism more than other religions because it is indigenous to China,” he said.
He stuck to his interest as he went to study architecture at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
“My major also gavemean opportunity to relate the traditional Chinese culture to Western theories, including anthropology and architecture,” he said.
Tao returned from his study in 2008, but he did not undertake a single program until a year later. That was when he met Yang Shihua, president of the Taoist Association of Jiangsu and a religious leader in Maoshan, the traditional seat of Shangqing school of Taoism, during a funeral of a priest in Shanghai.
The planning for Deyouguan was a lengthy process, as the old temple had been reduced to pieces decades ago, and Tao had to talk to a few priests to get an idea of what the temple looked like.
He borrowed some ideas of the old temple such as the roof to meld with the terrain.
However, he used glass as ceiling to enable adequate daylight to penetrate into the building.
Tao joined the Architectural Design and Research Institute in 2013, where he began undertaking moreprogramsto restoreandrebuild temples and religious buildings.
He noted that with the number of followers of both Taoism and Buddhism increasing inChina, there is a need for the temples to be renovated to adapt to the needs of followers.
“We alsoneedtomeldtheelements ofmodernlifestyle in the design, such astheuseof light, electricityandcomputer technology,” he said.
taken by Japanese tourists. in 1923 from the original Deyouguan Temple can still be seen at the site.
The main hall of the new Deyouguan Temple on Maoshan Mountain, Jiangsu province. Architect Tao Jin borrowed ideas from the old temple to build the new structure.
The Deyouguan Temple after its reconstruction.