Recently in our Architectural History class, we did a charrette – just some quick hand sketches on trace paper – for a Chinese Buddhist temple. We were given a location high up in the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains, about 100m north from the city of Lhasa in Tibet. This became a very interesting, fast-paced project to design for because this area of Tibet is not very developed. Up in the mountains, there is only a railroad, but not other roads. There is also no running water or access to reliable electricity. Therefore, my first decisions were to design the temple without any water usage, electricity usage, and only building with local materials. However, most temples I had researched in Tibet only used local stone and timber anyway so that was the norm in this area of the world. As for the electricity – many temples only used candles or oil lamps so that seemed like a viable solution for this temple as well. Not having any plumbing was fine since this particular temple didn’t need any, but the temple complex [Wat] that this temple was a part of would definitely need a well or utilize the stream nearby. So, the next few decisions revolved around what type of temple this would be.
I decided to mimic a large Buddhist temple complex called the Lingyin Temple complex which is near the city of Hangzhou in China. The Lingyin Temple complex has several different parts to it. The Hall of the Heavenly Kings is the entrance to the temple complex. The principal statue in this hall is the Laughing Buddha, located in the center of the hall. Then, the Grand Hall of the Great Sage is separated from the Hall of the Heavenly Kings by a large courtyard. The Grand Hall houses the historical Buddah and carved images of some 150 Buddhist personalities. After the Grand Hall, one would enter the Hall of the Medicine Buddah, which holds the statue of the Medicine Buddah. Uphill is the Sutra Library, which is not open for worship. Following the Sutra Library is the Huayan Hall, which houses statues of the three sages of the Avatamsaka Sutraand. The sixth and final building on the main axis is the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats. This building has a floor plan shaped like a Buddhist swastika and has five hundred arhats as slightly larger-than-life bronze statues.
Since this charrette is a quick project, I decided to design only one of the buildings listed above, although it would be located within a larger temple complex for our given location in the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains. I began designing my “Hall of the Heavenly Kings” based on research I had done and the lessons I have learned in class. Staying within the local customs, I sketched out the building to have double-eaves with a timber frame. Then, the exterior needed ornate geometric painting and the front of the building traditionally carries a plaque with the temple’s name. I will admit that I do not read or speak Chinese, so the symbols on the plaque of my temple are just created, not actual symbols. Then, the interior of the hall has a very specific statue layout based on research that I did. The center has a statue of the Laughing Buddah, on a raised altar. Arranged along the left and right sides are the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings. In the Buddhist faith, the Four Heavenly Kings are four gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction. At the northernmost part of the hall is the Wei Tuo, who is like a guardian Buddha who guards the Buddhist teachings. After I had the floor plan, section, and elevation of my design sketched out, it was time to put on the finishing touches. I used colored pencils to quickly express the color scheme, utilizing the traditional red and blue color schemes I had seen on other Buddhist temples in China. So, here is a picture of my design below. From this project I learned quite a bit about Buddhist temples and the Buddhist faith. Given the time restrictions on the project and the fact that our teacher asked us to hand sketch our designs on trace paper, we didn’t go very much in depth on this project. But, nevertheless, it was fun and well worth the time put into it.
‘Hall of the Heavenly Kings’ Design Charrette. Image by Lani Walker.