Situated in Ruicheng County, Shanxi Provice, the Five Dragons Temple (Guang Ren Wang Temple) is listed as a class A cultural relic by the National Cultural Heritage Conservation Bureau in China. Built in 831 A.D. during the Tang Dynasty, it is the oldest surviving Taoist temple. Sitting on a raised ridge above its surrounding village, the temple itself is segregated from the everyday lives of the villagers. The original picturesque view of the temple has also lost its charms due to the increasing exacerbation of the environment. Furthermore, modern irrigation techniques has replaced the rite for praying rain, and thus turning Five Dragons Temple from a spiritual centre to rubbish.
In 2015, Vanke Group initiated the "Long Plan" to raise fund to revitalise the environment of the Five Dragons Temple. This plan also helps to arise the public awareness on this historical preservation project. This initiative would then go on to become the first time where the government and private funds cooperated for cultural relics preservation, as well as the promotion of cultural protection through the platforms of internet and the international Expo.
The design of the environment uplift for the Five Dragons Temple is centered around two themes. An outstanding theme is to create layers of overlapping spaces around the main building to tell the story of the temple history and ancient Chinese architecture. Through this theme, people would learn about the knowledge of traditional Chinese architecture to better understand the importance for the preservation of heritage. The latent theme is to restore the temple into an area of public gathering in the village, and to give an alleviated environment to encourage contemporary lifestyles in coherent with the realms of ancient architecture.
The environment effort began with the renovation of the Five Dragon Spring. With the transition from traditional to modern agriculture, as well as the depletion of natural resources, the spring essentially became a garbage yard. After the renovation, the relics were once again protected. The reeds from the banks of the Yellow River matched well with the weathered relics, and the mud ground became a square frequented by villagers. The temple was reinvigorated, and once again became the centre of the village.
As the most characteristic human habitation of the local area since ancient times, cave dwellings have since drifted away from the lives of the locals. The design preserved several cave dwellings that served as livestock quarters found at the foot of the temple hill. They restored them with the traditional rammed-earth method, turning it into a shaded rest area for its visitors. With the participation of local workers, the cave renovations helped the villagers re-master this traditional construction skill.
The entrance of the Five Dragon Temple was once a muddy slide, difficult to travel through rain and snow. After the renovation, the dangerous slide was replaced with convenient stone steps. These steps were paved on the original path, preserving the plants along the side of the path.
Entering the temple, people would first see a foreyard with prefabricated concrete with the texture of rammed wall. The cladding, imitating the local soil color, not only is reversible but also looks original, matching well with surrounding environment. A temple miniature carved on the ground and a time line of Chinese architectural history on the wall clearly show the place of the Five Dragon Temple in history.
Entering further through a narrow aisle, one would see the main structure of the Five Dragon Temple. From this perspective, the elegant side of the structure is presented to visitors. People would feel a sense of excitement and reverence upon seeing this picturesque view.
The original temple yard was barren and had nothing to see. After the improvements, the scale of the yard was trimmed in order to accentuate the temple by enlarging the temple-yard scale ratio. A series of spaces was designed around the temple to add layers in appreciation of the cultural relics. The effect of such spatial adjustment proved to be without saying. The ground between the main structure and the theater stage was enlarged and paved. The new ground could also help prevent the temple from suffering water erosion, becoming an ideal place for villagers to hold activities. The stage thus would become an important carrier of local intangible heritages.
To the north, behind the stone wall, one would see a new viewing platform overlooking the other national treasures: the city wall ruins of the ancient State of Wei, and the distant Zhongtiao Mountain. With the platform, all the rich historical elements of the surroundings along with the Five Dragons Temple would form an immediate and intimate connection.
After the renovation, visiting the relics would be like reading into the history through views toward the temple. Through a series of visual experience around the temple, visitors can deepen their understanding of this national treasure and trigger further thoughts on history.
Spaces around the main structure was renovated into open-air exhibition halls. The temple now looks like a museum of Chinese architectural history, or a rural architecture classroom. The relic is revived. Its value is manifested. Its charm will since endure.
In 1999, WANG Hui co-founded URBANUS with partners LIU Xiaodu and MENG Yan. Based in Beijing and Shenzhen, URBANUS has become one of the most influential architectural practices in China. Aside from architectural practice, Wang Hui has also taught in many distinguished universities in China, and has lectured at many renowned institutions worldwide.
More than a design practice, Urbanus is also a think tank formulating architectural strategies for the contemporary urbanism. Urbanus focuses on urban realities in China and seeks architectural solutions based on the researches of emerging urban problems. Urbanus projects have received numerous prominent awards, and have been exhibited and published both nationally and internationally.
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