The legendary Shaolin monks in Henan, China do more than ancient kung fu—they can even fly thanks to the help of Latvian architect Austris Mailītis. His firm, Mailītis Architects, recently completed the Shaolin Flying Monks Temple, a unique levitation pavilion and theater with a giant wind tunnel that allows the monks and the general public to experience flight. The mountain-shaped structure draws inspiration from the surrounding Song mountains in central China with a site-sensitive design that respects the environmental and historical context in the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and Kung Fu.
A blend of East meets West, the Shaolin Flying Monks Temple is an amphitheater and platform for artistic performances. Austris Mailītis received the commission after a fortuitous meeting with people from Shaolin whom he met at the Shanghai Expo 2010 when he installed the Latvia Pavilion. “The concept is partially based on the phenomenon of levitation explored by the Shaolin monks for centuries,” said Mailītis. “Now they will all have an opportunity to try levitating. The idea is focused on growth, a spiritual and physical chance of making the next step towards solving the mystery of levitation.”
The sculptural theater takes inspiration from the Shaolin name, which translates to “mountain in the wood.” The 230-seat amphitheater is shaped like a mountain and represents the horizontal plane of the Earth, while the giant wind tunnel mimics a large tree with branches and symbolizes the vertical column of spirituality. The rounded organic form respects the beautiful mountain landscape in an area considered the cradle of Chinese civilization. “The building method combines modern and ancient technologies – a laser-cut steel superstructure supports stone steps handcrafted using local quarry resources,” said the architects.
The 300-square-meter theater includes interior and exterior spaces designed to host weekly shows. Wind tunnel-manufacturer Aerodium developed the technology to propel the monks and visitors into the air with powerful gusts of wind. The wind tunnel engine room is hidden below the stage and covered by a soundproof perforated surface that intakes air.
Images via Mailītis Architects