The Wong Dai Sin Temple has won a prestigious Governor General’s Medal for Architecture, with the judges praising the building as a modern sacred space looking like a tai chi pose. This award will be presented at Rideau Hall on September 20, 2016.
The jury for the awards by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts say the temple “demonstrates asymmetry and counterbalance while maintaining its equilibrium like a measured tai chi pose”.
The temple site in Markham had stringent on-site parking requirements so Shim-Sutcliffe Architects elevated the spiritual space so that it floats above ground with a major and minor cantilever supported on slender concrete piers. The building’s exterior is clad in weathering steel, with vertical fins on two facades used to control views from the inside looking out.
The Governor General’s Medal in Architecture citation notes that glowing red lanterns of varying diameters create a cosmic ceiling plan inside the Wong Dai Sin Temple, and provide ethereal natural light that co-mingles with burning incense creating a spiritual space linking sky and ground and connecting the interior self with the external world beyond.
Within the prayer hall is the most introverted space in the Wong Dai Sin Temple: the memorial hall. This small wooden building within the temple is a contemplative space where ancestors are honoured. Bamboo memorial plaques line this internal wooden room providing a place for private contemplation. There are opportunities for congregants to leave offerings of gratitude and to light incense in honour of their loved ones.
The jury appreciates this project for its conceptual clarity. It is a pleasure to see such a unique building that celebrates structural form and materials.
The relationship between the form and function of the Temple demonstrates a strong and considered composition. For example, the Temple gives the appearance of being both heavy and light; the major volume hovers above the ground, providing a protected space below for collective activities. Similarly, the striking façade modulates natural light while controlling views of the surroundings.
This is a beautifully crafted and designed building that the jury feels raises the bar for architects working in the domain of new spiritual buildings.