Upper Orara, NSW
It has been an honour to be selected to collaborate with the Dhammaduta Buddhist Monks from Myanmar and to assist them with the design, documentation and construction of their new Buddhist Temple, Pagoda and Training Facility located in Upper Orara, Coffs Harbour.
History of the Site and Tradition
The site was consecrated by chanting, meditation and rituals in approx. 2008 as a sacred site. This was carried out by 12 or 13 of the highest level monks from Myanmar, a very rare occurrence to have so many of the monks together in one spot at the same time. Once consecrated, this site became the only sacred site in Australia where new monks can be ordained through sacred ceremony into this particular branch of Buddhism.
In Myanmar, (previously known as Burma), it is regular for people to become novice monks at several periods throughout their lives. Typically as a teenager, for a period at middle age, and when older, ordinary civilians will go through the sacred ceremony, have their head shaved, wear the robes and live the life of a novice monk for a period of time. During this period, their family will support them, providing food and donations to the temple.
Until recently, the sacred site was a grassy plateau surrounded by 8 sacred stones. The new works are envisioned to enclose the sacred space and provide an all-weather facility for the conduct of the Buddhist ceremonies, mediations and rituals. In addition, the construction will include a traditional Pagoda, based on sacred proportion and design, to help support and focus the monk’s meditation. Enclosed within the spire of the pagoda are sacred relics, which enliven the pagoda. There-after it will act like a giant antenna, spreading the peace and compassion of Buddhism out into the universe.
The Design Process
Working with the monks from Myanmar has been a very interesting process, with lots of drawings, sign language and interpreters. As the drawings started to be produced, the specifics of designing a traditional Pagoda started to become apparent. There are many types of sacred pagodas, each designed around specific proportions. Originally, the pagoda was to be based on a Schwedagon Pagoda design, but this was later changed to a different style with a narrower base and taller spire.
Additionally, Buddhist Ceremony required that no part of the temple building that was above ground could touch any other structure during a sacred ceremony. To Ensure this, the bridge access to the pagoda room has been designed with a ‘drawbridge’. A small section of bridge that can be lifted up to separate the temple from the adjacent bridge. This also extends to the power cables under ground, which have a large plug, so that the Ceremony Room can be ‘un-plugged’ during sacred ceremony.
The temple has been designed with endurance in mind. Reinforced concrete construction and large structural steel ensure the temple will have a lifespan of 100 years plus. The steel spire has been earthed so as to withstand lighting strike, designed to withstand cyclone force winds and storms, and to be a safe-haven for generations to come.
Being built entirely from donations, the process has been staged, and progresses slowly, but the Ceremony Room, Pagoda Room and Spire are nearing completion. The concrete artisans are returning from Myanmar in February 2020, to complete the next stage of concrete embellishments to the structure.