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Chinese Architecture Report

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Chinese Architecture Report

  2. 2. INDEX Index Page 1.0 Introduction 2.0 Discussion 2.1 Theories 2.2 Objective/ Purpose 2.3 Practicality 3.0 Conclusion 4.0 References
  3. 3. 1.0 Introduction China is well known for many things: being the world’s largest consumer, structuring the first examination system as well as being a cradle of civilization. It is a country rich in history, culture and traditions. Something else that China is well-known for is their architecture. Many architectural feats, considered to be miraculous as they were ahead of their time, still stand strong till today. The Great Wall of China is considered one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World and is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world. The Forbidden City, with its majesty and the mystery surrounding it, is often found as the setting for many stories about Ancient China, and it attracts so many visitors that the number of visitors allowed was limited to 80,000 a day (“Forbidden City,’ 2015). The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, in all its vastness and complexity, has not even been fully excavated yet despite having been discovered more than 40 years ago (“Mausoleum of the First,” 2015). There are more examples of famous Chinese architecture, like the White Horse Temple, Mogao Caves and Summer Palace. These Chinese architectural structures are famous due to their age and the techniques used in constructing them. Techniques (or theories underlying these techniques) used included timberwork combining stone carving, rammed earth construction and bucket arch buildings (“Ancient Chinese Architecture,” 2015). In this report, the architectural contribution of Chinese civilization will be examined. The theories, objectives as well as practicality of the architectural features and structures will be explained and analyzed.
  4. 4. 2.0 Discussion Chinese architecture is amazing and miraculous in many ways, and this report will further discuss the contribution of the Chinese civilization in architecture. Based on the chosen topic, this report will explain the theories used behind the Chinese architectures, objective or purpose the Chinese civilization have their architecture in that way, and the how is it practically uses in today’s architecture. 2.1 Theories The Chinese civilization of architecture became well known after the book “Yingzao Fashi” which was written by Li Jie and were noted as a success. This book literally translates to "Treatise on Architectural Methods or State Building Standards" where it features various technical treatise on architecture and craftsmanship. Li Jie also revised many older treatises on architecture. His book was published in order to provide a unified set of architectural standards for builders, architects, and literate craftsmen as well as for the engineering agencies of the central government. Hierarchy Hierarchy is very much emphasized in the culture of Chinese civilization, which is also a concept uniquely captured in its architecture. The placement of buildings in a property or complex are based on the hierarchy and the importance of building. For example, buildings with doors facing the front of the property are considered more important than those facing the sides. Whereas, buildings facing away from the front of the property are the least important (Liu, 2002). In Chinese architecture, the position of the buildings that are South-facing positioned at the rear and in a more private locations of the property (usually with higher exposure to sunlight) are held in higher esteem and reserved for elder members of the family or ancestral plaques. On the other side, buildings that are facing east and west are generally for junior members of family, while buildings near the front are typically for servants and hired help. Lastly, front-facing buildings in the back of properties are used particularly for rooms of celebratory rites and for the placement of ancestral halls and plaques. Cosmological concepts It is also a known fact that Chinese people have their belief system deeply rooted in cosmological concepts since the early times. Therefore, the theory of Chinese cosmological concepts can also be found in the Chinese civilization of architecture. These concepts such as ‘feng shui’ (geomancy) and Taoism is widely used to organize construction and layout from common residences to imperial and
  5. 5. religious structures. For example, screen walls are to face the main entrance of the house, this is stems from the belief that evil things travel in straight lines. Another example would be the use of certain colors, numbers and the cardinal directions in traditional Chinese architecture which is reflected in the belief of a type of immanence, where the nature of a thing could be wholly contained in its own form. One of the most famous examples of feng shui that is used in households is the location of the entrance door of the house. In the ancient Chinese architecture, entrance is located at the southeastern corner as prescribed by feng shui. This is because the front door is of utmost importance to having good feng shui at home, because the front door is the gateway for all the good energy, or ‘Chi’ to enter a home. According to the laws of feng shui, the front door is also often called the mouth of the Chi, because this is how the house absorbs its nourishment to be able to nourish personal energy. (Mike, 2012) Figure 1: An example of feng shui applied in ancient Chinese architecture. (“Structure of siheyuan.,” 2015) Architectural bilateral symmetry
  6. 6. The most famous theory that is used in Chinese civilization of architecture is the theory of Architectural Bilateral Symmetry. Bilateral symmetry refers to having one vertical reflection which cuts through the center of an architectural piece, reflecting the image on either the left or right (“Features of Chinese Architecture,” 2014). The result of that should be a perfectly constructed image, exactly mirroring the other side. In addition, bilateral symmetry actually is the most common type of symmetry in architecture and is found in all cultures and time periods (“Features of Chinese Architecture,” 2014). Figure 2: An example of bilateral symmetry in architecture. (lawlmelon, 2013) In Chinese architecture, emphasis placed on articulation and bilateral symmetry. This signifies balance, which is an important part of the Chinese philosophy therefore, reflected in the art of Chinese architecture. In the architectural bilateral symmetry theory, the main structure is the axis, and the secondary structures are the positioned wings on each side. Even during the plans for renovation and extension of a house, symmetry is often prioritised and accounted for, should there be sufficient capital within the household to do so. Buildings are also typically planned to contain an even number of columns in the structure to produce an odd number of bays. From here, it is clearly seen that the concept of ‘balance’ is very much emphasis in the building of Chinese architecture. (Liu, Xujie, 2002) Open Air Enclosures
  7. 7. Open air enclosure is also one of the common theories in Chinese civilization of architecture. Open air enclosures in this contexts refers to open spaces which are enclosed, usually by four walls, having no roofs or ceilings. Most traditional Chinese architecture features enclosed open spaces within the building complexes or buildings which encompass the entire land area. There are two types of enclosed spaces, which are the courtyard and “sky well”. Figure 3: An example of Siheyuan courtyard. (“Siheyuan,” 1997) The use of open courtyard is the most common enclosed space that can be found in the many types of Chinese architectures. The best and the most famous example is the Siheyuan structure (picture above), which consists of an empty space, usually in the middle, and surrounded by buildings connected with one another either directly or through a series of verandas.
  8. 8. Figure 4: An example of Sky Well (天井, tian jing), Yin Yu Tang (“Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese House,” 2013) Another type of enclosed space that used in Chinese architecture is “Sky well” which is also known as Tian Jing (天井). The “Sky well” is also a concept of an open space surrounded by buildings, which is built in the northern courtyard complexes, and can be seen from the southern building structure. In the southern building structure, it is known as the “sky well”. This structure is essentially a relatively enclosed courtyard formed from the intersections of closely spaced buildings and offer small opening to the sky through the roof space from the floor up. One of the most famous “sky well” buildings in Chinese architecture is Yin Yu Tan (the picture above). The Yin Yu Tan was originally located in southern china in the late Qing dynasty. It was commonly known as the house or residence to merchants (“Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese House,” 2013).
  9. 9. Horizontal emphasis The theory of horizontal emphasis is often found in classical Chinese buildings, especially those of the wealthy, are built with an emphasis on breadth and less on height. Basically, it features an enclosed heavy platform and a large roof that floats over the base, with the vertical walls which are not well emphasized (“Features of Chinese Architecture,” 2014). This contrasts Western architecture, which tends to grow in height and depth. Chinese architecture stresses the visual impact of the width of the buildings. In other words, horizontal emphasis also represents the wealth of the family. For example, the halls and palaces in the Forbidden City, have rather low ceilings when compared to equivalent stately buildings in the West, but their external appearances suggest the all-embracing nature of imperial China. Use of timber framework Another theory that is used in Chinese civilization of architecture is the use of timber framework. Historically, ancient Chinese architecture is centered around the use of timber (“Chinese Traditional Architectural Craftsmanship,” 2014). Wooden posts, beams, lintels and joists make up the framework of a house. In this framework, the walls serve as the separation of rooms without bearing the weight of the whole house, a technique unique to China. As a famous saying goes, 'Chinese houses will still stand when their walls collapse.' The specialty of wood requires antisepsis methods to be adopted, thus developing the Chineses own architectural painting and carvings decoration. Colored glaze roofs, windows with exquisite applique design and beautiful flower patterns on wooden pillars reflect the high-level of the craftsmen's handicraft and their rich imagination. (“Chinese Traditional Architectural Craftsmanship,” 2014)
  10. 10. Figure 5: An example of timber framework, post and lintel. (“Advantour.com,” 2014) 2.2 Objective/Purpose As with all other forms of architectural structures, Chinese architecture had the basic purposes of shelter and safety, but it did not just cover that. Often, structures were built with certain purposes in mind, one of the most popular being feng shui. Feng shui, defined simply, is a Chinese system for positioning a building and the objects within a building in order to agree with spiritual forces and also to bring health and happiness (Feng Shui, n.d.). The application of feng shui can be seen in the design of The Forbidden City. In it, individual courtyards are designed with a certain ratio with cautious examination. The rear courtyards have the ratio of 6:11. Another example would be the Hall of Supreme Harmony, which has a ratio of 9:5. These numbers are not random; these odd and even numbers falls under the category of Yin Yang theory, a theory which describes how two seemingly conflicting objects or aspects of an object are actually combined in a complementary manner (“What is Yin Yang,”2005). This is one of their feng shui theories that some modern architecture designs still apply. While all these are the details of the designs, there are some basic principle of Chinese structures that reflect their social values and beliefs. For example, Chinese structures are based on the principle of balance and symmetry, and these structures all follow the principle that the main structure
  11. 11. is the axis. The secondary design is placed as two wings on either side to form the main room. This design reflects the Chinese social and ethical values. While all these designs represent something in them, religion plays a huge part in it as well. Chinese Buddhist architecture has the main entrance placed at the side of the building. The purpose behind this is to keep demons out of the premise. Even some modern Buddhist architecture follow the similar concepts of the olden architecture. This is generally the purposes of how Chinese contributed to the civilized architecture to the present. The Chinese architecture may have had many purposes and objectives at the time that it was built. One of the unintended purposes of the contribution of Chinese civilization architecture is so that people today can learn from the works of the ancient masters. This purpose is labeled ‘unintended’ because it is unlikely that ancient Chinese architects built their structures with the purpose of it becoming the subject of study in the future. Instead, it has become one of the objectives as time passed. Some examples of the architectural works are the Great Wall, White Horse Temple, Magao Caves and many more. One of their famous works is the framework of their houses, where the walls are just separations of their rooms. The materials used in ancient Chinese architecture were mainly timbers lintels and joists. There was a saying back in the day, where the houses still stands when the wall collapses. People can take this ancient architectural work as an inspiration. The quality of their materials were improved during the Qin, Southern and Northern dynasties even though before that they thought they had perfected the art of architectural designs. This shows that over time, anything can be improved, and this is something that modern day architects can learn from. Then came the Song Dynasty where much more was improved, and multi-storey buildings were built. That was when Tibetan Buddhism and Islam inspired the works of architects. All these are examples of the unintended objectives of Chinese architecture, objectives that just came to be over the years. 2.3 Practicality Ancient Chinese architecture has powerful meanings in the structures. In Chinese architecture, buildings often represent something meaningful. For example, the temple or heaven consists a lot of mausoleums, as they are a very important aspect in the Chinese culture and architecture. Mausoleums are built for those who have passed away. The objective of these meaningful structures is so that they have a backstory for the reminisce of these buildings. The Great Wall of China was built to keep intruders out, but now the wall is held up as a piece of art. Poor people in the Chinese civilization had to live in houses made of mudbrick while the richer
  12. 12. lived in fancier houses. The houses should be long and short as if the building is hugging you, and the roof should be held up by columns instead of walls. This makes the roof looks as if it's floating. But during the Han dynasty things changed, Buddhism was introduced in India during the 200bc, many pagodas were built to keep sacred things in. Ancient Chinese architectural structures are not just beautiful in appearance but has uses for them as well, alongside with superstitions. Feng shui is rarely implied nowadays for instance trees were not supposed to be grown around the houses but now tradition has changed. Based on the enclosure theory, the enclosed spaces comes in two forms which are the open courtyard and the ‘sky well’. The open courtyard is very common in ancient Chinese architecture buildings. It is an empty space that surrounded by the buildings that are connected to each other. The sky well is formed from the intersections of closely spaced buildings to provide a space to the sky through the roof (“Chinese Traditional Architectural Craftsmanship,” 2015). The courtyard was built to allow exposure of the building’s windows and walls to the sun and to keep the cold northern winds out, while the sky well was used to collect rainwater from the rooftops while restricting the amount of sunlight that enters the building. Architectural bilateral symmetry is useful for the balancing of a buildings. In China, you can find this theory applied in most of the buildings. For example, the old place and farmhouses (“Features of Chinese Architecture,” 2014). This theories is apply to create enduring flow and to emulate nature. Horizontal emphasis is also applied in most of the buildings in China. The reason why the buildings were built in this way is for safety reasons. Buildings that are low and wide are more safe compared to the building that are in vertical form (“Features of Chinese Architecture,” 2014) Timber framework was also used in many Chinese buildings. Timber framework is mostly form in a simple rectangular shape where the ratio of width 1:2. Timber framework will help to reduce the torsion of the buildings, which is helpful in shock resistance such as earthquake. China is a country which suffers from earthquakes, so it is practical that most of the buildings were built by using timber formworks. 3.0 Conclusion Ancient Chinese architecture has in fact contributed much to the modern world of architecture. Modern day architects and people involved in the building of structures like structural engineers can learn many things from the Chinese architecture, whether it is the theories, objectives or practicality of architectural features. The theories in Chinese architecture like bilateral symmetry provided a basic foundation for architects back then, and they now function as a means to help scholars understand the basic principles of Chinese architecture. The objectives of features of Chinese architecture show
  13. 13. architects how even the most simple of structures can have complicated objectives and purposes behind it. The practicality of Chinese architecture teaches architects how buildings should be made with practical and logical reasons in mind, and each building should not be a mere copy of another, but always made while considering the conditions and context. It is undeniable that the existing Chinese architectural structures serve as inspiration and motivation for architects all over the world. All in all, the Chinese civilization made many valuable contributions in terms of architecture, and it has widened the world’s view of architecture.
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