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9/7/2018 Classical Chinese Buildings

Chinese Architecture - Table of Contents. ................ Architecture Around the World

Classical Chinese Buildings


Wikipedia: Chinese Architecture
(Online Dec. 2013)

Classical Chinese buildings, especially those of the wealthy are built with an emphasis on
breadth and less on height, with close heavy platform and a large roof that floats over this base,
with the vertical walls not well emphasized.

Structural beams: Use of large structural timbers for primary support of the roof of a building.
Wooden timber, usually large trimmed logs, are used as load-bearing columns and lateral
beams for framing buildings and supporting the roofs. These beams are connected to each other
directly or in larger and higher class structures, tied indirectly together through the use of
brackets [dougong].

Sweeping [roofs]: Roofs with a sweeping curvature that rises at the corners of the roof
[flying eaves]. The types of roof construction are usually reserved for temples and palaces
although it may also be found in the homes of the wealthy. In the former cases, the ridges of the
roof are usually highly decorated with ceramic figurines.

Roof apex: The roof apex of a large hall is usually topped with a ridge of tiles and statues for
both decorative purposes but also to weight down the layers of roofing tiles for stability. These
ridges are often well decorated, especially for religious or palatial structures.

Jeremy Roberts, Chinese Mythology A to Z, Second Edition
(online Jan. 2014)

Architecture and Religion

China’s distinctive architecture is as heavily influenced by religious and mythological beliefs as

natural resources and landscape.

Buildings were strictly limited in the number of stories they could have by their relationship to
those around them. Temples set the height limits for all other buildings and no single house
could be as tall as the smallest temple, for that would insult the gods and bring suffering to the
village or city. Temple gates were also restricted to less than 100 feet tall so they wouldn’t
interfere with heavenly creatures who were believed to fly at that height.

Houses tended to be one story for a number of reasons. A tall house was thought to prevent a
smaller neighbor’s from receiving its proper amount of heavenly protection from the gods.
Additionally, even numbers were considered unlucky and few families could afford to build a
three-story house. Even multi-storied pagodas were built with five, seven, nine, eleven, or
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9/7/2018 Classical Chinese Buildings

thirteen stories.

Because of the height restrictions, families who could afford bigger houses tended to build out,
not up. In cities, a family might occupy three connecting buildings, out of which the very
wealthy created walled compounds with groups of buildings set up to create a series of inner

Since women were segregated from the larger society, and because wealthy men might have
several wives, there might be a separate building for the wives and concubines, as well as a
separate building for children and servants. If there were several generations living in the house,
there might also be separate buildings for the owners’ parents or other relatives.

Buildings were also constructed to conform to a system of feng shui, a belief that the Earth is
affected by spiritual forces connected to wind and water.

Burying an envelope of money beneath the new house’s foundation or threshhold attracted the
gods of wealth and abundance. The color red had the power to stop the winds of bad luck from
seeping into the house, which may be why builders tied a red cloth to the upper beam or painted
the beams or tops of doorways red.

Buildings were also constructed to conform to a system of feng shui, a belief that the Earth is
affected by spiritual forces connected to wind and water.

Sculpted dragons and demon-like creatures from myths and legends were popular architectural
features on the roofs of wealthy people’s houses and temples. These creatures had different
magical properties; a dragon, for instance, was believed to prevent house fires, since the Five
Elements taught that water (a dragon’s natural element) was the master of fire.

Moon Gate
A Moon Gate is a circular opening in a garden wall that acts as a pedestrian passageway, and a
traditional architectural element in Chinese gardens.

This type of gate usually consists of a full circular opening built as part of a large wall, and it can
be constructed from a number of different materials, including wood and stone.

The purpose of these gates is to serve as a very inviting entrance into gardens of the rich upper
class in China. The gates were originally only found in the gardens of wealthy Chinese nobles.

Dates back to ancient China and Japan. Asian noblemen incorporated moon gates in their
landscapes for spiritual enrichment. The opening transported the visitor from the human world to
the natural world—from busyness to relaxation and reflection.


Illustration above:

8 examples - Old Town Yuyuan Bazaar, Shanghai

3 examples - Old Town Yuyuan Gardens, Shanghai

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Moon gate - Shanghai Old Town Yuyuan Gardens

7 examples - Forbidden City, Beijing

Decorative paintings - Summer Palace, Beijing

5 gates - Summer Palace, Beijing

Painted crossbeams


Photos and their arrangement © 2013 Chuck LaChiusa

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