I first visited the Fuzhen Temple in 2002, during my first kung fu trip to China. We arrived in Wudang off a long 20h train ride on a super local train, passing through coal producing regions (and carried a grey pallor from the dust), and a harrowing bus trip up mountainous roads in the pitch darkness at speeds that seemed inappropriate to my mind. We arrived, however, safe and sound, and went up to our hotel rooms, washed off, ate dinner, then hung out on the patio, surrounded by darkness and buildings of some sort. We went to bed.
We awoke in a postcard.
Turns out, we were staying at not just some hotel*, but the Fuzhen Temple, and building dating back to the 15th century. (!) A complex of buildings that hugged the mountainside, beautiful plastered stonework and wood, painted red, organically following the contours of the land, surrounded by nothing but picturesque mountains. It was something.
I got to wander around the complex many times over the few days we stayed – daylight hours or night**, the place seemed to always have something new to share, especially architecturally. What got me was the intricacy of the buildings; the layering that brought complexity and richness to a steadfast repeating architectural language; the proximity and integration of the natural landscape; a processional route that used curves in the pathway, doorways, or stairs to hide and then reveal elements, culminating in a ceremonial altar hall; and the agelessness of the place. It was wonderful, and informed my development of space, hierarchy, and circulation.
It also held a structural delight: a chamber aptly named “one column, thirteen beams” where, indeed, a single column near the corner of the structure holds thirteen beams that support floors, roof, and more, famous throughout the land.
There’s a joy in visiting and being exposed to new forms, new typologies, and something done well out of your familiar time and cultural language. Clichéd as it may sounds, it really does stretch your boundaries, for the experience of something new forever changes your experience of life, and the edges of what you are now able to envision, comprehend, and embody.
I’ll always have a special place for the Fuzhen Temple. I’ve returned twice – 2005 and 2012 – and it continues to be a wonderful space for me.
For more pictures, start at image 219 here (shown below), and the following 16 pictures are all from the Fuzhen temple:
* – Double turns out the hotel was not exactly legally sanctioned. When we returned in 2005, the temple was, once again, just a temple.
** – Including one hilarious time when I was exploring at night, walking up the stairs in this beautiful, pristine, ancient land, and our tai chi master walks out of his room, flowing white robes, serenely, nods at me.. then whips out his cellphone and starts chattering away at a high rate. Shattered the tableau I’d been inhabiting!