There has rarely been a more elegant thumbing of an architectural nose. Despite aggressive neighbours, regulatory tyranny, and political pandering, the new Wong Dai Sin Temple 黃大仙 soars over its surroundings, mocking city rules while rigidly adhering to them.
Located in an area in Hong Kong where monster homes abound, the Wong Dai Sin Temple 黃大仙 was opened on Aug. 8 and stands out from the rest. The 2,500-square-foot building, which occupies a limited site on Steeles Ave. on Thornhill’s southern edge, takes advantage of one of the longest pre-stressed concrete cantilevers in North America.
The Wong Dai Sin Temple 黃大仙, a one-story building suspended several meters above the ground, is constructed using an impossibly small number of rectangular columns.
This bold engineering, done by Toronto’s Blackwell and Bowick, was the result of parking requirements, explains architect Brigitte Shim. Thornhill is a parking lot town, like most suburban communities.
A minimum number of spaces must be available for parking in all elements of its built environment. It is a gross exaggeration and an absurd assumption to assume that every day at the mall is Boxing Day. As the Wong Dai Sin Temple 黃大仙 was raised, space was created below for – what else? — parked cars.
Shim declares bluntly, “My neighbours were horrible.”. “When they heard about the project, they went ballistic. Thornhill has very high parking requirements for places of worship. The village was rotten. Parking spots were no longer available. City officials questioned the organization’s charitable standing.”
It is important to note that the Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism focuses on alleviating human suffering through community service and mind and body cultivation.
So, it is no wonder that the organization has been attacked from all sides. The neighbours complained that the structure was too tall, would attract too much traffic, would make too much noise, etc. Standard boilerplate.
Planners recommended approval of the project to Thornhill Council, but local politicians, to appease NIMBYs, fought it through the Ontario Municipal Board, which approved it.
Chris Farano, manager at Fung Loy Kok, says Thornhill residents are extremely concerned about parking. “We had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get the project approved.”
Even though the Wong Dai Sin Temple 黃大仙 stands out in an ocean of stylistically false buildings, to some Thornhill residents it is simply another building. However, it may be that they were opposed for that very reason. Excellence must not be underestimated when it comes to revealing an ersatz.
The building will not be overlooked, despite being set back from the sidewalk. A row of louvres made from Corten steel protrudes from the exterior at an improbably sharp angle. Corresponding to the warmth of the rusted metal is the raw concrete, both of them industrial materials, but used here in a very different way. As an afterthought, it is a Wong Dai Sin Temple 黃大仙, whatever that may mean today. In a nutshell, Shim has attempted to redefine what it means to be a “place of worship.”
In Thornhill, as well as elsewhere, such ambition is rare. Due to the nature of immigration, such buildings are often located in suburbs. Despite this, the piece of architecture stands out for its originality, innovation, and willingness to challenge conventional thinking.
“We were willing to take a risk,” explains Farano. “This is Canada; we recognized that that was an opening to do something new. Because the building floats, it elevates the mind.”
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