The Cultural Revolution decimated Beijing’s 3.000 Buddhist and Taoist temples, through arson or conversion to housing and manufacturingThe Hong’en Temple in Zhangwang Hutong also bears scars from that period. Rediscovered by Brunei architect Robin Foo in 2004, this Yuan Dynasty temple served congregations of Buddhists in the Yuan dynasty and Daoists in the Qing dynasty, stored machine parts in the 1970s, and was finally converted into dormitories and a wet market for locals. Foo took it on himself to rescue this ancient space.
Now a glass roof connects the temple to the rest of the complex, creating a capacious covered courtyard now dotted with tall, slender lounge seats and velvet topped tables, ready to be candlelit and serve as the reception room for invitees to one of the exclusive events managed by Foo and his team, operating out of the temple complex as events management company Contempio Beijing.
The main temple, now a fully equipped theatre for performances and seminars, has its unassuming door surmounted with a faded picture of the Great Helmsman. Since he unleashed the Cultural Revolution, Mao is in some ways as much an architect of the Hong’en Temple’s current anatomy as Buddha or the Dao. Dramatic scarlet velvet drapes create the theatrical mood in the bar area, its mezzanine boasting a pair of beautifully restored Chinese four posters.
The rear office space also enmeshes international sophistication into its unmistakably Chinese backdrop, a spectacular crystal chandelier hanging from the joisted ceiling beams, rotating and reclining easy chairs rubbing up against an antique backless wooden bench, and an ancient quern- haped stone resembling a wellhead has been transformed into a coffee table, providing a stable underpinning for delicate glass ornaments and modern living magazines.
The preservation of the old takes precedence over the convenience or glitz of the new, and the resulting space has a calm and a sophistication Beijing’s legion of modern events spaces fail to achieve for the simple fact that they have no history.
Stylites in Beijing, Photos by Eric Gregory Powell