CBR was happy to have American entrepreneur and business owner Chris Barclay as our guest speaker for our Speakers Series in August. As the designer and private investor to a restoration project, The Pear Orchard Temple, Chris shared his first-hand experience on this project. In his presentation, he talked about the UNESCO Heritage requirements for restoration, his perspective on the significances of restoring historic buildings as well as his views on eco-tourism in China.
A Brief History Of The Pear Orchard Temple
Shaxi Pear Orchard Temple, originally known as Ci Yin An ??? (the Temple of Sheltered Mercy), is a multi-level temple complex housing four unique shrines on four levels, together representing a mix of Buddhist, Daoist and folk religious traditions. Until a few decades ago the temple was still a functioning nunnery. In its more recent history while still serving as a temple, it has also become the village council hall, a community and religious center and a mahjong parlor.
Up until a decade ago the temple was being maintained by the village elders of Diantou who collected funds for its ongoing and ever increasing repairs. By the mid-2000s however the temple had become too expensive for the village to support and it fell into a state of disrepair. In 2012 shortly after his first introduction to the Pear Orchard Temple, Chris committed to funding its restoration. Three years later the Pear Orchard Temple reopened to it’s previous role as a community and religious center as well as the Shaxi visitors’ center. In addition, the temple is now equipped with a teahouse, cooking school, meditation center, Yoga terrace, classrooms and vegetarian dining hall named Pear Blossom Vegetarian Restaurant (?????).
Love, Loss, Love
Before the talk, Chris shared a six-minute video entitled ‘Love, Loss, Love’ telling the touching story behind his decision to take on this project. Back in 2011 Chris and his wife Nam visited the Pear Orchard Temple to pray for a child in front of Songzi Guan Yin ???? (Goddess of Fertility) after the tragic loss of their first baby Natalie. A month later, Nam, then 45 years of age, who had previously been told that she had less than a 5% chance in conceiving again, became pregnant. After their miracle baby Hannah was born on January 14, 2012, in gratitude Chris decided to restore this sacred temple.
The Philosophy Behind Rebuilding
Before Chris commenced work, he got in touch with UNESCO Heritage who provided him with a stringent set of rules and guidelines to follow for the restoration process. After deconstructing the conservation criteria, he was able to summarise them into four main aspects. Chris emphasised that for him it was very important to balance these, which he used as guidelines throughout the project. Here’s how he explained the four orientations:
Hardware = investigating and understanding the physical space, structure and environment
Software = investigating and understanding the people and their relationships to the space
Learning = investigating and understanding it’s historical significance and cultural references
Doing = project implementation through design and construction
Ci Yin An temple had undergone many repairs in the last 300 years, and most of them were done by the local craftsmen from Diantou Village. Chris explained how at an early stage he realised that the elders of the village were his most valuable and reliable source of information on the history of the temple. Through talking to the locals and hearing their stories he was able to get a better picture of what kind of role the temple played within the community. With no written records on the temple or on any of it’s previous repair works, the local craftsmen also became the best resource for how to restore the temple. Chris was adamant in not changing the current functions and purposes of the space through his renovations. Instead, his goal was to restore the temple to its latest known iteration and balance the existing functions with modern considerations, in order to help ongoing maintenance and secure its future. When being asked about what he was ultimately trying to achieve, Chris summarised his intentions:
“To authentically restore all structures to accommodate multi-use commercial and educational space while continuing to support local community worship, promoting ecotourism in the Shaxi Valley, balancing sacred and secular activities within.”
Below are a few images from Chris’ presentation. Stay tuned for next month’s article in which CBR interviews Chris in more depth and detail on the restoration and rebuild process of the Pear Orchard Temple.
CBR is collaborating with anySCALE and the Courtyard Institute to promote building restoration in Beijing and around China by hosting a monthly speakers series. Topics include building preservation, restoration and retrofitting, culture and heritage, and much more. So please keep an eye out for upcoming announcements through our newsletter! You can also join our WeChat group at @ProjectCBR to receive more information.