Redesign and Building of Sea God Altar

Daishan, China

 

2017

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Total land Area:3.6 hectare

Construction Area: 2,450 sqm

Gross Floor Area:7,300 sqm

 

This project is the redesign and re-building of one of the largest “sea god altar” in China. The “Sea God Altar” is a ceremonial site where fisherfolk on China’s coastal regions have historically worshipped the sea gods and dragon kings of the seas, praying for a good harvest and asking the gods to protect the natural marine resources.

 

During an era in which marine ecology has suffered significant damage, and the fishing industry has faced a steady decline of resources, the Altar was designed to promote the spirit of national culture, pay respect to folk religion and customs, by establishing a place to celebrate the “Fishing Festival” after the fishing season ends.

 

This grand ceremony gives thanks to the sea for its bounty, expressing gratitude to the dragon kings of the four seas. At the same time, the use of this folk culture would help develop the local economy and tourism industry, and also established a culturally and spiritually representative large-scale public events and community gathering venue.

 

The city of Daishan first initiated the project in 2006, with a private investor putting in 23 million RMB to build China’s first large-scale ceremonial sea altar. Covering an area of 45,000 square meters, it is the only dedicated space for sea worship in the country. However, due to the lack of knowledge of the site’s cultural historical contexts, geography and landscape,  the project turned out to be a big failure as it was not well planned and properly designed to serve its purpose.

 

Ten years later, as the structure became outdated and as local Daishan government was hoping for the site to better reflect the historical and cultural heritage of Sea God worshipping, Zhu Renmin was selected by local government of Daishan (client) to  reconfigure the site plan and rebuild on the basis of the old structure a new architecturally and culturally proper facility.

 

Drawing on his knowledge of maritime culture and employing traditional folk elements, Zhu Renmin used his rich imagination and minimal funds to re-design and renovate on the foundation of the largest “sea god altar” in China. This project was completed in 2017 and costs about 7 million RMB (~1.1million USD).

 

The local government of Daishan (client) wish to make use of the run-down and outdated buildings to keep the total cost within reasonable budget. Above all, the city wants to redesign and rebuild the architecture of the original space to elevate its cultural aspects, to better reflect the historical cultural and religious importance of the site.  For the client it was essential that this design qualifies this architectural structure for status as a local cultural landmark, and that it would become China’s current foremost “sacred altar.” The new structure was intended to combine religion, folkways, commerce and art all into one. Using historical folk elements as well as modern methods of construction, Zhu and team strive to build a classically coherent and architecturally solid and functioning work with least amount of capital possible, creating both cultural and economic impact.

 

Because of the time-sensitive nature of the Fishing Festival, the site's functionality must be adaptable and resilient in the face of change. The site accommodates large-scale religious activities several times a year, and also offers a variety of daily activities such as tourism, leisure, tea-drinking, and so forth, helping to boost the development of the region’s tourism economy.

 

 “Sea worship” is an important folk custom in China’s coastal areas.  However, after all, China’s national history lacks a completely intact expression of this ritual's stylistic elements. Well documented historical representations of marine culture are very limited. Zhu had to work to recover such historical elements of coastal design while also responding to present-day aesthetic and commercial demands.

 

Zhu and his team had to be creative and resourceful to give a new look to the site, within the limits of budget and the existing building structure: they renovated and restored the original, derelict buildings, minimizing large-scale structural changes as much as possible to save cost.

 

Zhu redesigned almost the entire structure, including the plaza, all facades, gates and entrances, stage, most sculptures, parking lot, and the overall landscape.

 

Striving to achieve optimal quality, both visually and functionally, while also keeping in mind practical budgetary considerations, as often as possible, Zhu’s team utilized local materials such as black brick, blue tiles, and stones, consistently implementing them in artistic ways, restoring the original splendor to this beautiful and sacred space.

 

The design of the sea altar requires for designer to taking into account local customs and functionality. The design of the structure’s façade emphasizes local marine culture and artistic elements, along with a unique sense of awe and majesty.  Zhu and his team have recovered, emphasized, and enlarged the most frequent and abundant elements of the oceans: masts, sails, the open sea, the sun, and fish, endowing them with decorative patterns that have made this site popular among local people.

 

Sea worship exhibits distinct elements of folk religion: the veneration of nature, awe, the supplication of one's own fate, and hopes for a safe and happy life. Using the most simple, honest words and actions, devotees trust in the highest powers of the sea gods. Therefore, the project’s design works to fully reflect that.

 

Zhu Renmin took on designing all the details of the site, for example, he drew on the traditional Chinese cultural elements specific to China’s coastal regions to pave the main square of the Sea God Altar. These elements include dragon kings, seaside mountains, fish, crashing waves and vivid features of local folk culture. These form the traditional cultural characteristics of the main square.

 

“Sea worship” is one way that fisherfolk in Daishan, Zhejiang Province and other parts of China’s coastal regions venerate the dragon kings of the seas and other sea gods. Broad swaths of people participate in this activity. Its influence is great and it has a long, continuous history, and not only in the Zhoushan archipelago, where Daishan is located. Many fisher families practice these unique customs. They are among the most characteristic and popular folk customs of historical marine fishing culture in the East China Sea. 

 

Daishan County is a key site of worship for the east coast. For many generations, fishing has been Daishan’s primary industry.Every year, in the East China Sea region, Daishan hosts a grand ceremony to mark the end of the fishing season. The sea altar ritual actively promotes interest in the sea, calling on all human beings to protect and care for it, and to express gratitude towards it.

 

 

Sea God Altar before Restoration

Sea God Altar after Restoration

Festivals are held at new Sea God Altar after restoration

The completed altar has a strong folk style and the characteristics of maritime culture, a local landmark to history and culture.

Sea God Altar Stadium

Zhu Renmin drew elements from the traditional Chinese culture and used it for the plaza pavement of  Sea God Altar

Manuscripts and Sculptures of Sea God by Zhu Renmin

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