Historic temple hall to be moved with giant Buddha statues still inside

“Our task is similar to pushing an old wooden table carrying many Buddha statues, so it is a great challenge to protect the whole structure and cultural artifacts inside."
Shanghai Construction No.4 Group / Ti Gong

Jade Buddha Temple with Mahavira Hall in the middle.

The main pavilion of Shanghai’s Jade Buddha Temple will be shifted 30 meters northward on Saturday.

Mahavira Hall, built in 1918, will be moved along with three huge Buddhist statues and other cultural heritages inside, said the city’s major construction company yesterday.

Shanghai Construction No. 4 Group added never before has such an operation been attempted with a temple in China.

The moving project along with other renovations are aimed at creating more room for worshippers and to address fire and other safety concerns at the popular historic temple in Anyuan Road.

The project is expected to be completed in two weeks when some 500 square meters of space will be released in the main square, doubling its current size, for worshipers and visitors to pray, said Shen Junqi, the project manager. Other pavilions and halls will remain open during the project.

The temple’s main square area is only 495 square meters and is often packed out, especially during the Spring Festival and the first and 15th day of each lunar month. Safety concerns caused by tightly packed crowds will be addressed by the extra space, Shen said.

The cost of the moving operation hasn’t been released. But Lu Xilin, a professor with Tongji University, said the relocation costs nearly half of that to demolish and rebuild the structure. It can also cut the schedule by roughly 70 percent.

The temple is among Shanghai’s most popular attractions, with 1.5 million visitors a year, a third of them from abroad.

The renovation was launched by the temple in July 2014 after the city’s housing quality watchdog highlighted safety concerns, and pointed out that many buildings across the city have been damaged by insects, warping the structures.

Pillars, in particular, were causes of safety concerns, according to the Shanghai Housing Quality Inspection Station.

The temple’s abbot Jue Xing has also expressed worries over Jade Buddha Hall, where two precious sculptures are located, due to the huge numbers of visitors.

“The temple was originally an old residential house whose owner donated it to the temple to house the two jade Buddha sculptures,” an official with the temple said. Some wooden and brick structure buildings have struggled to cope with visitor numbers and pose fire risks, the official added.

As part of the renovation campaign, the east and south pavilions beside Mahavira Hall have been replaced by wooden structures with modern fire safety facilities.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Workers prepare to move the hall on a platform on top of a rail track.

Smiles from the Buddhas

After the hall is moved to its new position, the temple will present a more traditional Chinese temple style, the temple official said.

The temple’s treasures include two jade sculptures of Sakyamuni and three 4-meter-tall clay Buddha sculptures in Mahavira Hall. It is said no matter where the visitor stands, the Buddhas are always looking at them with a smile.

According to the moving plan, the 18.2-meter-tall hall, covering 450 square meters, will start to be moved at 10am on Saturday. The wooden and brick structure will be moved by 2 meters on the first day and about 6 meters for the following days. The hall will also be raised by 0.3 meters every day of the renovation operation to become 1.05 meters taller, the group said.

Engineers have already cut off wooden supportive pillars from the current stone foundation of the hall and placed the pillars onto a platform. A rail track has been built beneath the platform from which the building will “slide” to its new position, Shen said.

“It is a great challenge to protect the whole structure and cultural heritages inside,” he added.

The building company has stabilized the structure and Buddha statues with steel bars. Since no welding is allowed inside the holy space, all the steel beams are fixed with screws.

Planks, wrapped with fireproof cloth, have been placed on the shoulders and waists of the Buddha statues to protect them during the move, while “ensuring the dignity of the Buddhas,” according to the group.

The management of the project has also stipulated that workers obey the rules of the Buddhism temple and that they don’t bring meat or fish to work, or smoke on the construction site. Noise and flying dust must be kept down as other parts of the temple will remain open. No trees or flowers should be damaged, Shen said.

This is the third major effort in the city to move a historic building from its original place to address safety concerns or give way to urban constructions.

A three-story structure of Minli Middle School, built in 1920 on Weihai Road in Jing’an District, was rolled on rail tracks 57 meters southeast of its original location in 2009 to make room for a commercial project.

Shanghai Concert Hall, built in 1930, reopened to the public in 2004 after being moved 66.46 meters southeast.

Shanghai Construction No.4 Group / Ti Gong

Engineers have already cut off wooden supportive pillars from the current stone foundation of the hall and placed the pillars onto a platform.

Shanghai Construction No.4 Group / Ti Gong

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