The Shaolin Flying Monks Theatre

Maria de Juan

Monks perform levitation over a huge wind tunnel at this amphitheatre, designed by Latvian studio Mailitis Architects on a Chinese mountain.

The Shaolin Flying Monks Theatre stands on a slope covered in cypress trees on Songshan Mountain (Henan Province). These mountains are home to UNESCO World Heritage, Shaolin Monastery, considered the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and Kung-Fu martial arts.

The amphitheatre hosts weekly shows where local monks try flying suspended over a huge air current that keeps them as if levitating above the tunnel.

The wind tunnel rises high in the centre, featuring a branch-like structure that splays outwards at the top. Its shape finishes the peak of Cypress Hill and the sloped shell forms a grand staircase that leads up and around the central auditorium.

Developed in the shape of two symbols – mountain and tree – it serves as a platform for any kind of scenic arts focusing on flying performances. The building combines modern and ancient technologies – a laser-cut steel superstructure supports stone steps handcrafted using local resources.

The theatre also features a three-storey interior space housing facilities for visitors and performers. The engine room of the wind tunnel is below the stage, covered by a perforated surface used to intake air and acoustically insulating material.

Technological devices, developed by wind tunnel-manufacturer Aerodium, are also stored here and create the air flow that goes straight to wind tunnel.

Austris Mailitis is the leader and father of a family company comprising two generations of architects and artists, based in Riga.

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