The Shaolin Flying Monks Theatre, China

The Shaolin Flying Monks Theatre stands on a slope covered in cypress trees on Songshan Mountain, a mountain range in the Henan Province, China. The mountains are home to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Shaolin Monastery, which is also considered to be the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and Kung-Fu martial arts.

Tasked with creating an amphitheatre to host weekly shows where local monks as well as the general public can try flying, Riga-based Mailītis Architects wanted to create a building that respects its natural surroundings.

The shape of the building is intended to finish the peak of the Cypress Hill, with the sloped outer shell forming a grand staircase that leads up and around the auditorium in the middle.

The wind tunnel rises high in the centre, featuring a branch-like structure that splays outwards at the top.

“The concept is to tell the history of Zen and Kung-Fu through artistic performances and the architectural image of the building itself. The architectural and conceptual image pays respect to the beauty of surrounding nature and the historical heritage of the site. Developed in the shape of two symbols, mountain and tree, it serves as a platform for any kind of scenic arts focusing especially on flying performances.” explained the architects.

A metal banister lines the side of the staircase around the rim of the structure. On the interior of the laser-cut steel structure, stone steps form seats facing the stage.

“The building method combines modern and ancient technologies, a laser-cut steel superstructure supports stone steps handcrafted using local quarry resources,” said the architects.

When asked about the experience of designing a structure and supervising the construction process in China, the architects admitted that the cultural differences were significant, and that includes work culture. To be able to collaborate, they had to learn to work the Chinese way. They had to accept a different understanding of things, for example, what is the truth? How do they measure time?

Architectural drawings proved to be a universal language that helped to get along with people with whom they couldn’t communicate verbally. The building quality is lower in China, and so they had to fight to improve it within the available possibilities. The architects also had to consider differences in climate, distance and time difference.

In addition to the exterior surface and steps, and the inner stage, the theatre also features a three-storey interior space housing facilities for visitors and performers.

The engine room of the wind tunnel is located below the stage, and is covered by a perforated surface used to intake air and eliminate sound. It is also insulated with acoustically insulating material on the inside.

To learn more about Mailitis Architects, click here.

Photographs Ansis Starks

Nicky’s World October 2018