Art of Devaud

UK architectural practice Office for Architectural Culture (OAC) wins commission to design the master plan for world’s largest Zen Meditation Park on a Buddhist holy land

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The London-based architectural practice Office for Architectural Culture has recently won an international design competition for the prestigious master plan project Famen Temple Zen Meditation Centre near the historical city of Xi’an, China.

OAC has been commissioned by the Chinese state-funded company, Qujiang Group, which is re-developing the UNESCO-listed Terra Cotta Warriors site and the First Emperor Tomb.

Charles Phu, Design Director of OAC, said: ‘This is one of the largest architectural and landscape commissions in the world focused around an historic religious temple. This high profile project will draw international pilgrims from China, and from across the world to experience Buddhism through the design of buildings and landscape.

The project is to be developed on the site of the renowned 1,850 year old Famen Buddhist Temple.

Famen Temple is the only Buddhist temple in the world to have successfully preserved one of the Buddha Sakyamuni’s finger bone relic since the 2nd century AD, which is the only one remaining in the world today. As an imperial temple in the powerful Tang Dynasty (618 – 907AD), it is considered a holy place amongst the Buddhists around the world and around one million people make a pilgrimage to the site each year.

The project site area is 1,250,000 sqm and the total building floor area is approximately 300,000 sqm. It includes the 1km square ‘Eightfold Path Forest’, four museums, script-copy halls, several large venues for meditation activities, a Buddhist academy, an art complex, a music complex, a concert hall, a 5-star Zen-theme boutique hotel and a 5-star hotel, and over a thousand meditation lodges.

The project’s Xi’an-based client Qujiang Group, the largest history and culture-related company in China, has realised several world-renowned UNESCO heritage sites including the Great Wild Goose Pagoda, Tang Dynasty’s Daming Palace (the largest imperial palace in world history), and Tang Paradise in Xi’an, China. They also operate several major museums and produce documentaries, films, and performances focused on culture and history.

OAC’s project design team is led by Design Director Charles Phu (, and supported in design management by Roger Whiteman, senior designer Oliver Hempel and key design team members Paul Browning and Amelia Payton.

OAC engaged the British landscape architect David Blackwood Murray to assist in defining the design direction for the competition and came up with the winning scheme, which integrates architecture, landscape, history, religion and spirituality. After the announcement of winning, OAC is now commencing the Schematic Design for the architecture, landscape and environmental art installation of the project. OAC has also engaged acclaimed artists Philippe Devaud ( and Yomei Chiang ( for the designs of artworks and environmental installations for the project.

The project offers opportunities for international devout Buddhists and Zen meditators to participate in all forms of meditation during their short and long stays on the site. It is also designed to help educate the general public to understand the principles of the religion and the Universe, through its museums, including the Zen Buddhist Culture Interactive Museum.

The Eco Museum, which integrates one of the energy centres serving the site, demonstrates the religion’s ecological and environmental principles, as well as the project’s commitments to sustainable communities.

A concert hall, forms part of the venue for the World Zen Meditation Forum.

Surrounding the 148m Relic Pagoda and the historic Famen Temple, the site has a perfect Fengshui relationship with mountains in the north and south. It will create a world-class meditation centre where Man coexists with Nature creating a micro universe based on Buddhist and Chinese philosophies.

Charles Phu said ‘Our aim is to create, through the juxtaposition of simple buildings, flora and fauna an “Experiential Environmental Library”, an environment encouraging people to learn how to comply with the Buddhist and Zen principles, helping them to enter a state of meditation and to reach the ultimate status of Zen Buddhism – enlightenment.’

Phu explains that ‘it is a gallery of landscape elements, an exhibition of interwoven themes and events which help people purity minds and learn from the law of nature – Buddhism’s Three Dharma Seals: impermanence, non-self-ness and suffer-to-enlightenment. It is a celebration of Nature in harmony with Man’.

‘In this micro universe, each building grows within and from the landscape. Our architectural approach is not about formality or metaphor; it is about defining an environment to enable purification of the mind and heart. This will be a place where design is both primary and secondary, where the site is structured but allows randomness, where an invisible Karma is reached through stimulating design’, said Roger Whiteman.

Background information

Office for Architectural Culture was founded in 2011 by Charles Phu to undertake specialist design projects in the UK, throughout Europe, Russia, Asia including China and his home country Taiwan.

Charles Phu was the lead designer on the Okhta Centre St Petersburg taking the project through the planning phases and creative director for Anouska Hempel. Phu was selected by Italian journalists to be one of the 18 international architects for ‘Future Roots’, which was exhibited at Triennale di Milano during the Milan Design Week 2012.

Phu is also involved in opera and ballet stage set designs. After a highly acclaimed design for a ballet production at the London Coliseum in 2011, one of his current engagements is the set design of Mozart’s opera ‘Così fan tutte’ for the prestigious Dubrovnik Summer Opera, where he also undertakes the designs of the structures of the landscape-integrated stage and seats for the outdoor performances. Phu is also undertaking the design of a new full-scaled, four-act opera Uncle Vanya, adapted from the Russian playwright Chekhov’s original play.

Roger Whiteman was the management director of SOM’s London Office and more recently RMJM’s London office. He established Beside Design in 2009 to assist young architects to develop their practices by providing management support.

David Blackwood Murray, the former Chairman of landscape practice Lovejoy, now works as a consultant to developers, architects and landscape practices assisting them with the creation of new urban spaces and landscape

OAC has engaged Glasgow-based landscape consultant City Design to work with it to provide Landscape expertise to the Famen project.

Office for Architectural Culture has established an innovative way of working on large complex design projects.

It has formed collaboration with some of the very best design consultants from the field of landscape, engineering, theatre design, art and sculpture. It collaborates with the design management consultancy beside design, the engineering consultants Ramboll (London), Davies McGuire +Whitby, London-based museum consultant Real Studios, and UK theatre consultant TheatrePlan. Specialist advisers also collaborate with OAC, which include the opera director Sally Burgess and Royal Ballet Principal Dancer and producer David Makhateli in performing arts.

This collaboration allows OAC to compete with the very best design practices across the world, which has proved successful.

Amongst the design projects it has undertaken, OAC has also been commissioned to prepare a masterplan for the renovation and extension of the renowned historic fishing village of Tanmen on the island of Hainan off the south coast of China. The development, one of the largest oceanic fishing cultural projects in Asia, includes the design of four museums focused on oceanic fishing cultures, an international oceanic culture exchange centre, a number of culture-themed resort buildings, a performing arts venue, a new fishing village, scenic residential and cultural commercial facilities.

Recently the practice also successfully delivered a high-end large multi occupancy villa in Beijing.

Information on the design of the Tanmen Project will be released in the next two weeks following review of the masterlan proposals with the client in September.

For additional information please contact +44 (0)20 79792028, or Amelia Payton.

Pagoda Platform

Sky Lake and Meditation Platform by Philippe Devaud and Yomei Chiang

Art Installation by Philippe Devaud ( and Yomei Chiang (
Office for Architectural Culture (OAC)

Conceptual Framework

  1. Behind the movement of our restless minds lies the true nature of mind, which is calm, clear, free of desire and confusion.
  2. Like your mirrored image (in the lake), the reflection of the sky in the water is but another illusion.


A large, shallow, organically-shaped lake, a sheet of highly polished back stone just beneath the surface, mirroring movements of the sky above. A stone platform of ‘golden rectangle’ proportions in the centre of the lake; you only see the surface of the platform. Three ‘paths’ made up of individual rectangular stones (all in ‘golden rectangle’ proportions), leading to the platform. The 3 paths symbolise body, speech and mind in Buddhist practice. Gentle ripples will break the water’s surface as you set foot on the stones, moving towards the platform. Looking into the water, your own image breaks up as well as the reflection of the sky & clouds above. A very subtle ‘mist’ will be generated around the lake, gently gathering and dispersing. The platform is ideally a seat for quiet mindful contemplation.

Eightfold Path Bronze Bells art installation by Philippe Devaud

An installation artwork is placed underneath of the central path. It comprises of eight 800mm diameter, 6.5m long tube bronze bells, with each of 8 different languages etched on surface of each bell. People can ring it with hands every hour at the bells’ low, sacred sound would spread around the whole Thousand Acre Forest. People hear the sound, feel vibration, then have their minds pacified. They will learn the cause and effect rule of people and nature, and how to respect others.

The bronze tube bells are etched historical statements and Buddhist/Zen text in 8 different languages, including: Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Japanese, Thai, English, Spanish, Russian.

Right livelihood eco meditation sitting platforms by Philippe Devaud

Sketch Bodhidharma’s Eyelids by Philippe Devaud

Skizze Budhidharma's Augenlider

Right Intention Lake by Philippe Devaud

Echo Meditation Seating Yard by Philippe Devaud

Echo Meditation Seating Yard

Right Mindfulness Purity Mound by Philippe Devaud

Labyrinth by Philippe Devaud and Yomei Chiang

Conceptual Framework

  1. “The doors of perception” are the gateway to understanding the true nature of reality.
  2. In Buddhist terminology: ‘path = view; view = path)


A substantial spiral maze/labyrinth with thick stone walls, organic in shape (think Gaudi, Gehry etc) , with 2 exit/entrances. The interior is lined with highly polished stainless steel or bronze (for mirror-effect). Some sections of the interior walls are parallel to each other, the ‘mirrored’ surfaces counter-reflecting thus producing an illusion of infinite space. Other sections are not parallel, thus producing a staight-forward subject-object reflection (relative space). The ‘path’ of the labyrinth is either just earth, or paved stone. Scattered along the path are small objects of interest, such as pretty shells, shiny ‘gold-like’ bits, or beautiful plants and flowers (planted in the ground) etc to arouse the desire of picking or pocketing them.

At the centre is a 3-walled chamber of highly polished stainless steel or bronze, ‘golden mena’ proportions, just large enough for one person to enter. When one peers in (taking oneself out of the equation), the parallel reflective surfaces give off an illusion of infinite space. When one enters the chamber, one sees endless images of oneself. The idea is to go ‘back to the centre’; the path to true understanding (the nature of reality) is not a linear destination but an organic, cyclical process of self-discovery. Along the ‘path’ we encounter our own desires (the shiny attractive objects strewn around) but also catch occassional glimpses of ‘ultimate reality’ (parallel reflections) as well as relative or distorted projections which we think are solid but are only projections of our confused minds. At the centre one encounters the true nature of mind, which is emptiness.

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