Canadian Architect

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Governor General’s Medal Winner: Wong Dai Sin Temple

WINNER OF A 2016 GOVERNOR GENERAL’S MEDAL IN ARCHITECTURE

May 19, 2016
by Canadian Architect

The temple’s daring cantilever recalls the measured balance of a tai chi pose.

The temple’s daring cantilever recalls the measured balance of a tai chi pose.

LOCATION Markham, Ontario
ARCHITECT Shim-Sutcliffe Architects Inc.
PHOTOS James Dow

The Wong Dai Sin Temple is a modern sacred space that houses a dynamic Taoist community, committed to their inner spiritual development through the ancient physical practice of tai chi. The Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism needed a new spiritual home in suburban Toronto that had to reflect not only the heart and soul of their religious beliefs, but also the modern contemporary world of their congregants. This place of worship is located on a major suburban arterial road, surrounded by a shopping mall and cul-de-sacs lined with oversized single-family residential mansions.

The new temple building demonstrates asymmetry and counterbalance while maintaining its equilibrium, much like a measured tai chi pose. The building’s south elevation, visible from the busy roadway, reveals a major and minor cantilever supported on slender concrete piers. Stringent on-site parking requirements necessitated elevating the spiritual space and providing surface parking below it. This sacred space is supported on a two-way concrete slab integrated with seven rectangular poured-in-place structural concrete piers, tied to a robust raft foundation. The post-tensioned concrete slab system, with its 10.2-metre cantilever on the west, hovers over the parking area. A smaller 5.2-metre cantilever on the east side of the post-tensioned structure accommodates an exterior terrace over the parking, and serves as a counterbalance for the longer cantilever to the west. Exposed concrete is also used for two cantilevered staircases, which, along with an elevator, provide access to the second-floor worship space.

An ethereal atmosphere is created by custom luminaires with suspended incense rings, fitted to the skylights above.

An ethereal atmosphere is created by custom luminaires with suspended incense rings, fitted to the skylights above.

The building’s north and south façades are clad in shaped weathering steel vertical fins, which control views from the inside looking out. Floor-to-ceiling window openings in the prayer space splay outwards, allowing for natural light at the perimeter and encouraging cross-ventilation. The west and east elevations, facing the neighbours, are clad in large abstract panels of weathering steel, ensuring privacy.

Inside the Wong Dai Sin Temple, circular motorized skylights are linked to large red light monitors that modulate the natural light entering the space, and also provide support for oversized rings of incense used for Taoist chanting and prayer ceremonies. These glowing red lanterns of varying diameters create a cosmic ceiling plan and result in ethereal natural light, which co-mingles with burning incense. The result is a spiritual space linking sky and ground, and connecting interior selves with the external world beyond.

The open space underneath the building contributes to the required parking area for the facility, doubling as a sheltered outdoor area for community activities.

The open space underneath the building contributes to the required parking area for the facility, doubling as a sheltered outdoor area for community activities.

Within the prayer hall is the most introverted space in the Wong Dai Sin Temple: the memorial hall. In this small wooden building within the temple, ancestors are honoured. Bamboo memorial plaques line the contemplative space; congregants are invited to leave offerings of gratitude and to light incense in memory of their loved ones.

The building is inextricably tied to ancient Wong Dai Sin Temples in other parts of the world through its manipulation and amplification of natural light, its instrumental use of colour, and its commitment to a carefully composed and tactile material palette. The daily worship of the ancient religion of Taoism is embedded in the fabric of this modern sacred space.

:: Jury :: 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. 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 raises the bar for architects working in the domain of new spiritual buildings.

Section A Second Floor PlanCLIENT Fung Loy Kok—Institute of Taoism | ARCHITECT TEAM Brigitte Shim, Howard Sutcliffe, Monica Leung, Andrew Kimber | STRUCTURAL Blackwell Structural Engineers | MECHANICAL BK Consulting Inc. | ELECTRICAL Dynamic Designs and Engineering Inc. | SITE SERVICES Masongsong Associates Engineering Ltd. | LANDSCAPE NAK Design Group | GEOTECHNICAL Canada Engineering Services Inc. | PLANNING Bousfields Inc. | PLANNING LAWYERS Sherman Brown | CONTRACTOR Gillam Group Inc. | AREA 304 m2 | BUDGET Withheld | COMPLETION March 2015