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
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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