The Strand, American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.)
San Francisco, California, United States
A space for contemplation in the heart of the city, the temple will host a public tea room, gallery, bookstore, and peaceful meditation spaces. Imbued with Buddhist ideas, the architecture shapes the interplay between subtle texture and sunlight to nurture mindfulness.
Since 1989, the American Buddhist Cultural Society (ABCS) Temple, a modest, single-story facility on San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue, has been a center of spiritual education, cultural exchange, charity and community life. The new six-story temple will support ABCS’s programming, and accommodate its growing role as a focal point for Buddhists around the Bay Area.
The upgraded facility will welcome the public into a contiguous space with vaulted ceiling panels that will host a bookstore, art gallery, tea house, and community dining hall. A central atrium will bring natural light into these spaces, and the small interior garden at its base will create an intentional pause between the gallery and the tea area.
On the upper levels, the Buddhist shrine and meditation room will provide practitioners and the broader public with a retreat for contemplation. An education center, consisting of two classrooms and a lecture hall, will host community classes for children and adults. In support of these community-oriented spaces are three levels of private dormitories for visiting volunteers and monastics from the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world.
The architecture translates historic Buddhist architectural elements, themes, and materials into a modern material palette. Along Van Ness Avenue, the temple’s roofline will be a simplified reference to the wide, ridged eaves of a traditional temple roof. On the ground floor, the entryway reinterprets the symbolic three-gate entrance. The facade’s intricate design incorporates multiple elements of traditional Buddhist architecture. The building will be clad in panels that evoke the vertical form of bamboo shafts. Shade screens on the western facade will resemble the rectangular patchwork of Chinese Buddhist jiasha robes, and the screens will be positioned in a pattern that echoes the tapered stacks of a pagoda.
A Buddha statue is the focal point of the main shrine room, illuminated by side windows. Clerestories run across the top of the walls, providing additional natural light. The side walls, of bamboo-formed concrete, contribute to a rich tactile experience and a connection to nature. The ceiling is defined by a series of repeating wood panels that bounce light into the space and provide acoustic control. Radiant floor heating provides additional comfort.
With careful attention to experiential qualities, the design team sought to create an ideal environment for contemplation. Through the thoughtful use of natural materials, light, and texture, the design balances comfort and simplicity, and intends to encourage mindfulness within the space. The main staircase–with stone steps and bamboo-formed concrete walls, under a large skylight–embodies this intention. The textured walls heighten the tactile qualities of the space, while also creating depth and shadow.
Sunlight is a prominent design element: dappling the classrooms and dormitories through the west-facing shade screens, beaming into the bookstore in vertical columns as if through a glade, emanating from the central atrium, and illuminating the shrine room through clerestories. At the same time, the architecture maintains the neighboring buildings’ access to daylight, and ventilation. At the center of the temple, the meditation terrace is positioned to minimize shadow impacts on the stained glass windows of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. This design also minimizes the obstruction of the adjacent condominium windows, which will overlook the gardens in the atrium, and on the meditation terrace.
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