Traditional Chinese Architecture


Traditional Chinese architecture is one of the three greatest architectural systems due to its superior architectural techniques, unique artistic design and beautiful decorations. The main structure of traditional Chinese architecture is made of wood. It has three structural systems such as the beams-in –tiers structural system (Tai Liang Shi), the column and tie-beam structural system (Chuan Dou Shi) and the log-cabin structural system (Jing Gan Shi). The building is supported dougong chinese structural componentby the wood frame work no by the outer walls and inner walls. The beams, columns, lintels and joists are connected together in a complete unit. So it is very stable. This kind of structures can satisfy different needs of the various types of halls and pavilions. For the inner and the outer walls can be varied depending on the practical needs. It is also earthquake-proof because most parts of the wood frame are joined by tenon and mortise and the connections are all flexible. Some ancient buildings experienced many times of earthquake but can still stand till today that is really a miracle of construction. Wood is a natural material and it is easy to get and to process that makes the construction easier. But wood lacks strength and durability and it is also easy to rot and to catch fire. So wooden structures can not last very long like brick structures and stones structures.
Dou-gong The notable architectural components in traditional Chinese architectures are “dougong” (wood brackets). Dou-gong refers to the use in the frame of several layers of short bow-shaped arcs called gong at the top of the columns where they meet the crossbeams. The gong was cushioned with a block of wood called dou. Dou-gong was used under the eaves to make the eaves out from the roof in an overhang thus to reduce the span of the cross beams. It can transfer the load of the roof from the beams to the vertical pillars. Dou-gong can add to the magnificence of the buildings. Owing to hierarchical restrictions in feudal society, the number of layers of Dou-gong used in a building depends on the importance of that building. Dou-gong appeared in 7th century BC, During the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD), the form was fully developed. Not only the style became unified but also the size was standardized. From the point of view of structural mechanics, the Dou-gong structure is also highly resistant to earthquakes.
The layout of traditionalchinese sihehuan layout Chinese architectures was mainly the court yard style. This style was the most common style of architecture used in building homes. Si he yuan (quadrangle) was very popular residence in northern part of China, which derived its name from its four buildings set on four sides and enclosed a courtyard. Generally speaking, the building in the north was called the “principle building” which was always live by the senior generation. The buildings on the east and west are called “side buildings” which were lived by the younger generations. The entrance of the complex was always opened at the south east corner. This layout indicated the feudal hierarchy and ethics in China. For common people, their quadrangle usually was small but for rich people and high ranking people, their residence could have several courtyards in one line or flanked by the main courtyard.
Imperial palace architecture
China experienced a long time of feudal dynasties. The feudal emperors were both material rulers and spiritual rulers. With their supreme power they could mobilize the best architects and the nation’s manpower and material to build their palaces. So the imperial palaces in different times stood for the highest level of architecture. The famous palace complex, Epanggong built for Emperor Qinshihuang 2, 000 years ago was incredible big. Its Front Palace covering 80,000 square meters could hold 10,000 people. The Weiyanggong of the Western Han Dynasty had more than 40 palaces within an outer wall of 11 kilometers. The Forbidden City, also called the Imperial Palace, which was built during the reign of the third Ming Emperor Yongle in 1421AD. It still stands intact today. The Forbidden City covers an area of 720,000 square meters and consists of more than 800 palaces and a lot of courtyards. It is the biggest palace in the world. The main palace buildings stood along the central axis of Beijing in order to emphasis the emperor’s supreme power and dignity. The Throne Hall was built on a three-tier marble terrace with the height of 35 meters from the ground. The palace buildings for office or ceremonies in the front court were huge and grandeur. Clusters of courtyards were built for the royal family members to live. They emperor even built a private garden in the rare palace area. In order achieve good Fengshui (auspicious atmosphere) even an artificial river was built in the Forbidden City and one artificial hill was piled behind it. For the decorations of the Imperial, the palace walls were paint in red, the roofs were cover by yellow glazed titles, on the eaves builders used mythical animals’ statues to decorate the roof. Many lions’ statues were placed in front of the palaces. The stone carvings with dragon motif were
widely used. Even the paintings, the highest level of painting were applied. (Mainly dragon and phoenix, dragon is the
symbol of the emperor and phoenix is the symbol of empress.) Since ancient Chinese believed number 9 was the
supreme yang number (the luckiest number) the number of the door studs was 9 by 9. Based on the same reason,
number or size concerning imperial architecture often equals or multiples nine. The roofs of imperial palace were always
lofty with double eaves and four slopes, which could be used by the common people in order to differentiate the social
Imperial Mausoleum Architecture
Imperial tombs can be regarded as the palaces after their death. Guided by the traditional thought that “people should
be treated after death as they should be treated when alive”, Chinese emperors no one exception attached
great importance on building their mausoleum. It was recorded that the tomb of the Emperor Qinshihuang was built with palaces for a hundred officials, rooms contained gems, and rivers of mercury were made. Whether it was true or not was still uncovered. But according to the archeologists’ findings, the tomb was considerably big and it was true a lot of clay soldiers and horses were buried for the diseased emperor. The layout of the imperial tombs also followed the principle that court was infront and sleeping quarter was in back. Actually the sacrificial hall for the emperor’s tomb was like the court and the burial chamber was like the sleeping chamber. The sacred way was universal for the emperor’s tomb and it is one important part of the royal mausoleum. There were used to place big stone statues of mythical animals or officials for safe guarding the way leading to the emperors’ tombs.
Religious structure Religion played an important role in ancient time of China. For many dynasties, Chinese emperors were Buddhists or Taoists. Many temples were built all over China. The temples built under the imperial orders were splendid as palaces.
Buddhist Architecture Chinese Buddhist architecture follows symmetric style strictly. Usually main buildings will be set on the central axis, facing the south. Annexed structures will be on the west and east flanks. Temple gate, Heavenly King Hall, the Main Hall and Sutra Library successively stands on the axis. Dorm, kitchen, dining hall, storehouse and antechamber usually cluster on the right side while left side remains for the visitors. Pagoda originated from India stupa which was used to bury the relics of Buddha. When it was introduced in China, it became the main integrating part of the Buddhist architecture, Later it combined traditional Chinese architectural style, the pagoda with varied styles and strong local flavors came into being. Roughly, there are four kindsChinese amperor's mausoleum layout of pagodas in China such as the Multi-storey or Tower Pavilion Style Pagoda, the Multi-eave Style Pagoda and
Lama Style Pagoda and single-layer tomb Pagoda. Now the highest pagoda existing stands 40 meters high and
enjoy a 1400-year lifespan after survival of several earthquakes. Among the 3000 existed pagodas, there are
all-timber pagoda, brick pagoda, stone pagoda, bronze pagoda and iron pagoda. The shape of the pagodas can be quadrangle, hexangle or octagonal.
The Other Buddhist architecture is grotto complex which is excavated on cliff walls, usually huge projects and with exquisite engravings. It came from India with Buddhism too and boomed during the Northern and Southern dynasty. The famous Mogao Caves, Yungang Grottoes and Longmen Grottoes were all carved then.
Taoist architecture includes various structures according to different functions, categorized as palace for oblation and sacrifice, altar for praying and offering, cubby for religious service, residence for Taoist abbes and garden for visitors.
During the last period of the East Han Dynasty when Taoism was introduced, Taoist ascetics mostly lived in huts and even caves in remote mountains under guidance of their philosophy of nature.
Taoist architecture During the Jin dynasty and the Northern and Southern Dynasties (265-589AD), Taoism experienced reforms and was accepted by the rulers. Many Taoist temples were set up in the capital under imperial orders. Taoist
architecture reached a rather large scale then.
Taoism reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty. Later Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism influenced each other, so that certain structures in Buddhism and Confucianism architectures were transformed into Taoism architecture. As a result, there remained similarities in designing among the three systems.chinese temple layout
Taoist architecture applies two architectural styles - traditional style and Bagua style. In the former style, traditional architectural layout, which is symmetric, will be applied. Main halls will be set up on the central axis. Annexes like dining
hall and accommodation will be located at the back or the flank of the complex.
The second is the Bagua style in which all structures surround the Danlu (stove to make pills of immortality) in the center according to Bagua's position request. The center axis from the south to the north is very long and structures flank the axis. The style reflects Taoist philosophy that the human cosmos follows the natural cosmos to integrate energy, qi and spirit.
Most Taoist architectures resort to nature topography to build towers, pavilions, lobbies and other garden structural units, decorated with murals, sculptures and steles to entertain people, fully interpreting Taoist philosophy of nature.
Gardens Architecture The ancient Chinese garden originated in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, when monarchs began to build parks for their own leisure and pleasure. During the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period, it
was a fashion to build gardens. Until the Han dynasty private gardens appeared. After the Jin, and Northern and Southern dynasties, private gardens came into vogue as the rich and powerful sought to express their sentiment in landscaping.
During the Tang and Song dynasties, a poetic touch was added to the layout and scenes of a garden, and became a
general feature. In the Qing dynasty, garden architecture reached its peak. In the evolution, Chinese gardens have
acquired a set of unique traits and traditions. In one simple word, Chinese gardens are artificial scenery style gardens on a limited space to resemble a natural landscape view with hills, rivers, flowers and trees. There are two types of traditional gardens in China which are imperial gardens and private gardens.
Imperial gardens These gardens, usually spacious, exquisite and grandiose, were built for royal families by thousands people. The summer Palace in Beijing is the biggest imperial garden, which was built in the Qing Dynasty.
Private gardens These gardens were usually built in urban areas, neighbored with residences. Since land was limited in cities private gardens were generally small and simple but delicate and looked pretty. Most famous private gardens were situated in Suzhou, Jiangsu. Actually they are mostly the homes of the officials and rich merchants.
The construction of traditional Chinese gardens followed several principles
1. Making good use of the terrain. Water and mountain were very important factors should be taken into consideration
when building a garden. It is very common to make a hill on the highest point and to dig a lake on the lower point.
2. Reasonable to arrange the scenery and buildings. Depending on the function of the gardens, the scenery and functional buildings must be arranged properly. A nice garden should have rich levels of scenery. The scenery should be balanced also avoiding so dense scenery in one area and so sparse in the other area. The scenery and buildings should be in harmony which should give people a nice visual art.
3. The scenery and the style of buildings must be in varied changes. Gardens, especially the imperial gardens should not be very formal because it is a place to relax. So the style of the buildings should be in different forms and the colors should be more amiable and joyful. Generally speaking, the building like pavilion, terrace, veranda near the water, pagoda, corridor, different shaped bridges, different shaped windows and gates and temple should be built in the imperial gardens. Gardens should be dotted with nice looking stones and it should be planted with trees such as cypress tree, and different flowers to crate natural scenery in different seasons.
4. Paintings and Chinese couplets are very necessary for the buildings in the gardens in order to add the interest to scenery. Actually a nice garden is a nice picture.
China Great Wall was also one architectural wonder in the world. It is famous for its long history and massive lenght as well as the unique structural style.

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