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By : Hui-min Wang, Leslie L. Shieh

In Taiwan, particularly in rural settlements, the temple serves as the religious and social centre. In the past 30 years, as Taiwan experienced rapid economic growth, modernizing temple architecture was something worshipers viewed as the newest and best offering. Many old temples were demolished entirely or in parts to build larger temples using modern materials and construction methods. In the early 1990s, finding the old temple too small to fulfil the large number of worshipers from outside the community, the Chen-An Temple Association proposed to raise funds for a new temple. It commissioned a Japanese architecture firm, well known for several public projects in I-Lan, to design the new temple. The design partially preserved the old temple building, integrating it into the landscape design of the new temple. At the time, the central government cultural bureau was promoting the preservation of community historic spaces, and at first had agreed to give funding. However, after reviewing, funding was refused because the jurors had failed to see community involvement in the design. It was under these circumstances that the Er-Jie community invited our organization to work with them, in hope that by bringing in a new perspective, the original scheme could be altered to satisfy government funding. Through a nine month participation process, the community realized that what meant the most to them about the old temple was the public square defined by the temple building, the large canopy of the Banyan trees, and the social activities that took place there. After much deliberation and numerous design workshops with the architects of the new temple, the resulting design preserved the entire old temple building by moving it to an unused space across from its current location; and to recreate the character of the temple square through attention to design elements. Our work in Er-Jie demonstrated that although language is a vital part of preservation efforts, most community members do not have a grasp of the planning and design language, including words, drawings, body language, and actions. Not having adequate language ability leads to misunderstanding, prevents one’s voice from being heard, and creates obstacles in dialogue. In retrospect, the lack of a common language was the cause of many of the difficulties and issues we confronted during the project. There were five key players in the project -the government, the Chen-An Temple Association, the community, the architects, and us. The participation process was about encouraging a common language. Through the process, we observed a rise in the community’s confidence, as they were increasingly able to share their thoughts with and define their values to the others involved. Accordingly, we were able to draw from the community that the temple square was what they valued most. The end product of the preservation effort is more than a conserved temple building. The revitalization effort also preserved the meaning the public square holds for the community. For the community, temple preservation is about public space because of the cultural and historical attachments the local residents have to that space. Revitalization is about providing the opportunity for the community to redefine the role of the building given the community’s current needs. The success of the conservation effort can be measured by the effect the process has on the community. Following the preservation of the Chen-An Temple, the community led the restoration of a waterway that runs through their community. As the community became more comfortable with the language of participation, preservation, space, and design, there emerges a preservation and environmental design consciousness in the community.
Keywords: Preservation, Revitalization, Temple, Community Participation, Public Squares

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