Domus - - PROJECTS - Pho­tos Yang Chaoy­ing, Jerry Yin

This ex­em­plary ar­chi­tec­tural and landscape re­gen­er­a­tion project has re­stored worth to China’s old­est sur­viv­ing Taoist tem­ple in a pro­gramme to ren­o­vate and con­serve the his­toric site ex­e­cuted with the adop­tion of tra­di­tional build­ing meth­ods and in a per­fect bal­ance of na­ture, ex­per­tise, his­tory and in­no­va­tion


Sit­u­ated in Ruicheng, Shanxi Prov­ince, the Five Dragons Tem­ple (Guang Ren Wang Tem­ple) is listed as a class A cul­tural mon­u­ment by the Na­tional Cul­tural Her­itage Con­ser­va­tion Bureau in China. Built in 831 AD dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, it is the old­est sur­viv­ing Taoist tem­ple. Sit­ting on a raised ridge above its sur­round­ing vil­lage, the tem­ple it­self was seg­re­gated from ev­ery­day vil­lage life and the orig­i­nally pic­turesque view of the tem­ple had lost its charm with the in­creas­ing ex­ac­er­ba­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment. Fur­ther­more, mod­ern ir­ri­ga­tion tech­niques have re­placed the rit­ual of pray­ing for rain, turn­ing the Five Dragons Tem­ple from a spir­i­tual cen­tre into a dump­ing ground. In 2015, the Vanke Group ini­ti­ated a ‘Long Plan’ to raise funds and re­vi­talise the sur­round­ings of the Five Dragons Tem­ple. This plan also helped raise pub­lic aware­ness of this his­tor­i­cal preser­va­tion project. The ini­tia­tive then went on to be­come the first time the gov­ern­ment and pri­vate funds had co­op­er­ated to pre­serve a cul­tural ruin, as well as pro­mot­ing cul­tural pro­tec­tion through the plat­forms of the In­ter­net and the in­ter­na­tional Expo.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal up­grade of the Five Dragons Tem­ple was cen­tered on two goals. One was a strong de­sire to cre­ate lay­ers of over­lap­ping spa­ces around the main build­ing and nar­rate the his­tory of the tem­ple and an­cient Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture. In this way, peo­ple would learn about tra­di­tional Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture and bet­ter un­der­stand the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing this her­itage. The un­der­ly­ing goal was to re­turn the tem­ple to a place of pub­lic gath­er­ing in the vil­lage and pro­vide an im­proved en­vi­ron­ment to en­cour­age con­tem­po­rary life­styles con­sis­tent with the an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture.

The up­grad­ing of the en­vi­ron­ment be­gan with the ren­o­va­tion of the Five Dragons Spring. With the tran­si­tion from tra­di­tional to mod­ern agri­cul­ture and the de­ple­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources, the spring es­sen­tially be­came a dump but af­ter the ren­o­va­tion, it was once again pro­tected. The reeds trans­planted from the banks of the Yel­low River went well with the weath­ered mon­u­ment and the muddy ground be­came a square fre­quented by vil­lagers. The tem­ple was rein­vig­o­rated and be­came the cen­tre of the vil­lage once again.

The most typ­i­cal hu­man dwelling places in the area since an­cient times — caves — had lost their rel­e­vance to the vil­lagers’ lives but the project pre­served sev­eral cave dwellings serv­ing as live­stock shel­ters at the foot of the tem­ple hill. They were re­stored us­ing the tra­di­tional rammed-earth method and turned into shaded rest ar­eas for vis­i­tors. With the par­tic­i­pa­tion of lo­cal work­ers, the cave ren­o­va­tion helped the vil­lagers re-mas­ter this tra­di­tional con­struc­tion skill.

The en­trance to the Five Dragons Tem­ple was once a muddy slope, dif­fi­cult to ne­go­ti­ate in the rain and snow. Af­ter ren­o­va­tion, this dan­ger­ous slope was re­placed with con­ve­nient stone steps. These are paved along the orig­i­nal path and me­an­der through the pre­served veg­e­ta­tion. Peo­ple en­ter­ing the tem­ple first see a front yard with pre­fab­ri­cated con­crete blocks cov­ered with rammed earth. The cladding, im­i­tat­ing the lo­cal soil colour, is not only re­versible but also does not look ar­ti­fi­cial, blend­ing well with the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment. A minia­ture tem­ple carved on the ground and a time­line of Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory on the wall clearly show the Five Dragons Tem­ple’s place in his­tory. As you ven­ture far­ther along the nar­row pas­sage, the main struc­ture of the Five Dragons Tem­ple ap­pears and this per­spec­tive presents the el­e­gant struc­ture to vis­i­tors, with peo­ple feel­ing a sense of ex­cite­ment and rev­er­ence at this pic­turesque sight.

The orig­i­nal tem­ple yard was empty, with noth­ing to see. Af­ter the im­prove­ments, the size of the yard was ad­justed to make the tem­ple seem big­ger and a num­ber of spa­ces were added around the tem­ple to heighten the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the cul­tural mon­u­ment. The area be­tween the main struc­ture and the theatre stage was en­larged and paved. The new ground also helps pre­vent the tem­ple suc­cumb­ing to wa­ter ero­sion, be­com­ing an ideal place for vil­lagers to or­gan­ise ac­tiv­i­ties and mak­ing the stage an im­por­tant fea­ture of the lo­cal in­tan­gi­ble her­itage.

To the north, be­hind the stone wall, is a new view­ing plat­form over­look­ing other na­tional trea­sures: the ru­ins of the city wall of the an­cient Wei State and the dis­tant Zhong­tiao

moun­tain. The plat­form al­lows all the sur­round­ing his­tor­i­cal fea­tures to form an im­me­di­ate and in­ti­mate con­nec­tion with the Five Dragons Tem­ple.

Af­ter the ren­o­va­tion, vis­it­ing the relics is like read­ing his­tory through the views of the tem­ple and a num­ber of vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ences around the tem­ple en­able vis­i­tors to fur­ther their un­der­stand­ing of this na­tional trea­sure, trig­ger­ing more thoughts on his­tory.

The spa­ces around the main struc­ture were re­fur­bished to be­come open-air ex­hi­bi­tion ar­eas. The tem­ple is now like a mu­seum of Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory or a ru­ral ar­chi­tec­ture class­room. The ruin is re­vived, its value is man­i­fest and its charm will en­dure.


Pre­vi­ous spread: the Five Dragons Tem­ple seen in its sur­round­ing con­text, be­come a pro­tected area af­ter the restora­tion. In the fore­ground is the large cul­ti­vated field that ex­tends north of the site (photo: Jerry Yin). Op­po­site page, cen­tre: the...

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