From the architects

The Nan Tien Education and Cultural Centre is a tertiary facility and art gallery based in Wollongong, and opposite the Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere. 

In a nod to the Budhist philosophies of reincarnnation and charity, the new building sits on the former site of an industrial landfill bought by the Nan Tien Institute from the council for one Australian dollar.

Using the Buddhist symbol of the lotus flower as design inspiration, the edifice is comprised of four distinct “pods” with communal spaces in between each.

Each area is linked by brides, allowing for movement throughout the interiors. Keeping in line with the humanistic teachings of Fo Guang Shan, a new Buddhist movement based out of Taiwan, the architecture avoids hierarchy, utilises a neutral palette, and is void of materialism.

"The project was a delight to work on due to the rareness of project type, the opportunity to learn about Buddhist philosophy, and the trust in the Client which allowed us to create an unique architectural response," says John Prentice, principal – Woods Bagot. 

The first building on the Institute’s site, the idea was to create a mini campus which would create a collegiate learning environment for students. Connecting users to the environment, the pod-like structure of the building created an inviting and open public space in between. 

Curved walls and window openings have created a distinctive look for the building, with precast concrete used to create the signature form of the building.

The sculptural forms of the pods were made by pouring concrete into custom-made steel and timber molds to form unique shapes, with the imprinted texture of the timber boards visible in the detail of the final pod facades. 

Terracotta tiles and screens were used on the north-east and west facades, linking back to the roof of the Nan Tien Temple and Pagoda. The undulating wave pattern of the screens create a sense of movement while providing environmental shading to the interiors.

The design of the building reflects the Nan Tien Institute’s aims to foster a holistic education. The first campus building will cater for 300 students and is designed to provide an environment conducive to teaching and learning in the 21st century by creating a setting for community interaction, education and cultural exchange.

In the end, the design was meant to encourage ongoing engagement with health and well-being by the use of:

  • Remediation of the site in order to minimise the environmental mpact
  • Support the education of Humanistic Buddhism
  • Provide a place to gather and be around others for support, enjoyment, communication, sharing of knowledge.
  • Civic presence to allow for congregations of communities through supporting display and participation with cultural activities.
  • ESD initiatives that support wellbeing (fresh air natural light, access to clean water and minimisation, reduce energy use.

The end result says Wood Bagot:

  • Celebrates the journey towards enlightenment
  • Provides an environment that is the focus on health and well-being
  • Enables the sharing of knowledge and wisdom through everyday interaction
  • Provides significant connectivity to the culture of temple while maintaining a presence and an attraction of its own
  • Celebrates life with the connection to nature and an appreciation for the environment