Wong Dai Sin Temple Features a Contemplative Use of Materials

Located in Toronto, the Wong Dai Sin Temple is an example of a modern and contemplative sacred space in the heart of the city. Housing the city’s dynamic Taoist community, it is a place for inner spiritual development and the practice of the ancient art of tai chi within a busy, 21st century metropolis. It was essential to members that the temple not only align with their traditional religious spirituality but also be a truly modern, 21st century design. To balance theset objectives,  Canada’s renowned architectural practice Shim-Sutcliffe,  made delicate and beautiful use of a combination of materials.

The building’s exterior on the north and south facades is clad in shaped weathering steel vertical fins that are used to control views from the inside looking out. Large vertical floor to ceiling window openings in the prayer space splay outward ensuring both natural light at the perimeter and good cross ventilation. The west and east elevations facing the neighbours are clad in large abstract panels of weathering steel ensuring privacy. Exposed concrete is also used for the two cantilevered staircases, on the north east and south east, which along with an elevator, provides access to the second floor worship space.

Inside the Wong Dai Sin Temple, large circular motorized skylights are linked to large red light monitors which defines the natural light entering the space and also provides supports for large rings of incense used for Taoist chanting and prayer ceremonies. These glowing red lanterns of varying diameters create a cosmic ceiling plan and provide ethereal natural light which co-mingles with burning incense creating a spiritual space linking sky and ground and connecting our interior self with the external world beyond.

Within the prayer hall is the most introverted space in the Wong Dai Sin Temple which is its 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 honor of their love ones.

This space is inextricably tied to other 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 one of the world’s ancient religion of Taoism is embedded in the fabric of this modern sacred space.

The temple is also a modern feat of engineering, featuring North America’s longest cantilever that demonstrates asymmetry and counterbalance while maintaining its equilibrium much like a tai chi pose. The building’s south elevation is visible from the busy roadway to the south, reveals a major and minor cantilever supported on slender concrete piers.  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 two-way bonded post tensioned concrete slab system with its 10.2m cantilever on the west hovers over the parking area which acts as the structural support for the sacred space above. A smaller 5.2 m cantilever on the east side of the post tensioned structure accommodates an exterior terrace over the parking below and serves as a counter balance for the longer cantilever to the west.