Breathing new life into the century-old temple – Red Shine Gateway

TAIPEI (The China Post) — The Wu Shen Temple in Xinzhuang has been a local religious base for nearly three centuries, attracting a great number of believers nationwide.

To celebrate the 260th anniversary of its inception and the birthday of Wu Shen (General Guan Yu, also known as Guandi, the “Saint of War”), the temple recently organized ceremonial blessings and festive events have been planned.

Wishing to showcase a refreshing outlook of the traditional event, the Wu Shen Temple Association invited exhibition designers to bring a creative touch on the gateway in front of the temple, a temporary and reusable structure built ahead of the celebration.

It’s rare that a traditional temple seeks the opportunity of modern installation art in its sacred area. To answer their anticipation, PLAYFUL Design Studio created the “Red Shine Gateway,” where it transformed the complex shape of the old-style gateway, into a light handy structure with bright colors and layers of textures.

RED SHINE GATEWAY, a fusion of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary presentation (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)
Wu Shen Temple is located on the direct path to the riverside (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)

The creative design has drawn global attention after the project was published on designboom, an global design Website.

WISHING FOR ABUNDANCE AND SPIRITUAL SUPPORT

Blessed with a great environment and a perfect location for water transport, Xinzhaung was the commercial center of northern Taiwan and the third of the most bustling cities on the island in the Qing dynasty.

Ever since then, Guan Yu has been worshiped among businessmen in town. In 1760, during the Qianlong era, a prominent scholar named Douyou Hu from Fujian, China contributed his land and fortune to build the Wu Shen Temple for the local religion.

Located at the heart of Xinzhung Temple Street with a direct path towards the riverside, the temple has become an important local landmark after its completion.

For the past three centuries, the temple has witnessed the history of Taiwan and has been expanded, renovated and reconstructed several times.

The wooden structure of the two front hallways have already been replaced with reinforced concrete, however, the rest of the structure has remained unchanged since the last renovation in 1868.

The traditional gateway in front of the temple, temporarily built for ceremonial events (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)

A DIVIDING LINE BETWEEN DIVINITY AND HUMANITY

The gateway in front of the temple is known as the dividing line between the worlds of the mortal and God. By walking through the gateway, you are able to enter the sacred space of God. In most annual celebration events, the gateway is usually built with simple temporary construction.

The scaffolding is usually made of bamboo or steel poles, tied together with wires, and applied by printed Styrofoam or wooden boards that decorate the similar exterior of a traditional gateway.

On the other hand, the courtyard between the gateway and the temple is usually covered with corrugated metal plates to create a shade shelter from the sun and rain. It is a semi-open ground for the crowds during the ceremonial celebration.

When the events are over, the structure and the plate will be removed, leaving the courtyard open again; the materials can also be re-used in other occasions, and be reassembled in different shapes and sizes.

The main deity of Wu Shen Temple, General Guan Yu, also known as the saint of war (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)

A GREAT CHARACTER OF LOYALTY AND HONESTY

Wu Shen Temple worships the saint of war, General Guan Yu, who was a historical figure born in the three-kingdom era of Chinese history( A.D. 160-220 ). He was a warrior in wars and a loyal servant to the emperor.

Guan Yu was posthumously deified as the guardian of loyalty and righteousness, awarded the title of the “Saint of War”. He has been praised as a deity figure for centuries, even had been worshiped by the past emperors.

In Taiwan, he is especially worshiped by military and police forces, as well as many businesses as their mentor and guardian. He is a figure that belongs in Taoism and Buddhism, making him one of the most popular deities in Taiwan.

The designers proposed two passionate expressions to the name of the gateway, which represents the genuine personality and noble character of Guan Yu.

RED”: The color of integrity, the red-faced image of Guan Yu, and the different tones of red-colored in the structure.

SHINE”: Light transmitted surface design allows light to shine through the semi-open temple courtyard, which portrays Guan Yu’s bright and brilliant spirit.

The rising gateway on the Xinzhuang Old Street (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)
The crowds in the night market pass by the gateway (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)

REVIVAL OF THE VINTAGE DESIGN

The designers cleverly combined traditional construction methods with a contemporary presentation, by creating a reusable installation design that has never been seen in the setting of a temple space.

The structure of red bamboo is built via traditional construction method (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)
Four tones of red color are painted on the bamboo structure to enhance the depth of the space (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)

The structure of the Red Shine Gateway is built with the traditional bamboo scaffolding. The Xinzhuang Old Street was once a famous bamboo market in the ancient Taipei basin, also known as the “bamboo town.”

As the Wu Shen Temple stands in the center of the very street, the designers specially chose bamboo as the building material, for a renewed texture and re-interpretation of local history. The structure is then supported by four connected arrays of bamboo layers, and each is painted with different tones of red color to enhance the visual perception of the space.

The contemporary gateway is composed of different building materials (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)

For an innovative approach, the team made the metal plates of the shade shelter over the courtyard partially transparent and partially red. Through the transparent layer, natural sunlight can gently flow into the temple space, while the red layer symbolizes the red tiles that were widely used to build traditional temple roofs.

At night time, both vertical and horizontal LED light bars attached to the bamboo structure are well lit up, composing an abstract re-presentation of the gateway as light shimmers like candle lights in the temple. The red illumination show is arranged in several settings to show the heart-warming and enthusiastic characters of Guan Yu.

Erected on the busy and always crowded Temple Street, Red Shine Gateway seamlessly blends into the surrounding environment. The existing electricity cables that hover over the street are also skillfully integrated into our bamboo structure, giving the nearby public area a neat and bright look.

Under the transparent shelter, the open space is perfect for calligraphy events during the Chinese New Year (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)
The traditional festival and parade gather crowds in front of the gateway he Chinese New Year (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)

The transformation of the gateway also bridges the gap between people and the temple. The light and transparent spatial transition has successfully brought more visitors and activities into the sacred space.

As the original courtyard turns into a sheltered semi open space, during the daytime, neighbors and believers are welcomed into the atmosphere for praying and ritual events, or other cultural activities for the neighborhood.

The Red Shine Gateway and the Wu Shen Temple (Courtesy of Playful Design Studio)

Different scenes are taking place in the quieter evenings, as the flow of shimmering gateway lights waves with the illuminated street and the passing crowd, the Wu Shen Temple stands as a shining guide light watching over the neighborhood and willingly witnesses the generations to come.

The exhibition of the Red Shine Gateway is lasting until the end of June.

Address: No. 340, Xinzhuang Road, Xinzhuang District, New Taipei City, 242