Iconic Roofs: Thean Hou Temple
Thean Hou temple in Malaysia is one of the most recent buildings to be featured in our Iconic Roofs series, being opened in 1989, yet it has the appearance of Chinese temples built hundreds of years before. One of the largest temples in Southeast Asia, Thean Hou is one of Kuala Lumpur’s most significant tourist destinations and offers numerous religious and cultural activities for visitors and tourists to partake in.
The east Asian pagoda style of building has its roots in the 3rd century BC, originating in India, developing in China, and then further spreading to Southeast Asia where Thean Hou can be found. Pagodas are characterised by their numerous tiers – traditionally this number is uneven. While Thean Hou temple is not a tower, and therefore not technically a pagoda, its broad eaves and tiered roofs does lend it the appearance of one, if not its characteristics.
Chinese architecture tends to focus more on the horizontal axis than the vertical; rather than building a temple with high walls, Thean Hou is built with broad base platforms and wide roofs, working as a demarcation barrier of their own against the Asian winds. The idea behind this construction choice is to make people feel comfortable, which is easier for most in wide open spaces. Comfort and harmony are the feelings which the temple foremost seeks to produce, although the large scale of the central temple buildings is intended to inspire awe in worshippers and glorify the gods. The rest of the temple grounds are dotted by small pavilions, places for quiet contemplation and meditation as befits the Chinese temple’s religious philosophy, and small and lively ponds which are filled with tortoises.
The architecture of Thean Hou is a combination of ancient and modern, reflecting its origins in the 1980s. It draws from Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist temple traditions, and is a rich red, the traditional Chinese colour of luck and good fortune. Paper lanterns hang all over, and red and yellow decorations in the shape of dragons welcome you into the temple from their high perches. Thean Hou overall makes an excellent visit if you happen to be journeying through Southeast Asia at any point, and it is a shining example of the beauty and ingenuity of Asian roof architecture.