Proudly, I’d like to present our GiT spouse Zhuo Yanbin, who will give us a very interesting introduction to the ancient Chinese architecture. He will close the set of three informative presentations about China. See also the previous presentations of Yang Li and Ali Zhao.
Thx a lot, Yanbin, for your elaborate and worth knowing explanation of the rich history of ancient Chinese architecture!
Pls enjoy the presentation of Yanbin below ..
With much pleasure I would like to introduce something about China. To show something familiar which I am fond of, I chose the topic of ancient Chinese architecture. It’s definitely a brief introduction to reveal a small part of a great “giant”.
Thanks to the GIT program who provides this opportunity to let three of us (the other two are Ali Zhao and Li Yang) show something about China. When the idea of ancient architecture comes to my mind, I feel excited, but also worried as there are too much things I need to talk about.
When creating this presentation I needed to find a balance between easy information that can be found simply on internet, and on the other hand many details like in an academic presentation. There are still too many fantastic cases which I couldn’t show one by one. Nevertheless, I try hard to give you a basic view of what the ancient Chinese buildings look like and how they are constructed. Hope you will like it.
P.S. all the used pictures are from internet. Special thanks to Professor Li Qianlang from Taiwan. The pictures which combine cross-section and perspective, fit perfectly what I want to illustrate.
By Zhuo Yanbin
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION OF ANCIENT CHINESE ARCHITECTURE
Before depicting what the ancient Chinese buildings are, the picture below shows a brief timeline of Chinese history. Ancient China is defined as the year before 1840, mainly divided into 11 periods. The blue ones (during ancient China) represent the time during civil wars or years too far away which couldn’t provide a chance for the development of architecture. The red ones are golden ages for centralized kingdoms, possessing a blooming growth of economy, technology and culture, not to mention architecture. The development of architecture is an essential index to show the character of each period.
Figure 1 brief time line
For Qin/Han Dynasty, the underground buildings—Tombs are the most famous such as the tomb for the first king of Qin dynasty unearthed the Terra Cotta Warriors. As the timber frame buildings are difficult to be preserved, the earliest existing timber frame building is located in Tang Dynasty (Main hall of Fuoguang Temple, Shanxi Province). When comes to Song Dynasty, the accumulated knowledge and experience of construction promotes the birth of <营造法式>( Method of construction), a building Bible composed by an ancient architect named Li Jie. After that, during Ming/Ch’ing Dynasty lots of royal buildings are preserved, like the Forbidden City (Figure 1).
There is a person I have to talk about, Professor Liang Sicheng. He composed first edition “History of Chinese Architecture”, wrote a book of notations for all words and phrases in “Method of construction” as it’s write in ancient Chinese which is very difficult to understand. He conducted many important buildings’ survey works, he even named his son “congjie” which means to become a man followed Li Jie.
Figure 2 Li Jie/ Method of Construction/Liang Sicheng
So, what does a typical ancient Chinese building looks like? You may have traveled to China or saw them for internet, but it’s not easy to get an insight of the reasons why they are looking like that or what the main order of the timber construction. The followings will unleash the basic ideas of ancient Chinese architecture.
Figure 3 Three parts of a timber building
Briefly the timber frame of ancient Chinese buildings can be divided into three parts: the roof, the layer of bracket sets (in the middle) and the columns with base(Figure 3).
Figure 4 Hierarchy of roofs
The slope roof is normally considered as the fifth façade of buildings. For ancient Chinese buildings it must be the first feature capture the eyes. The basic forms of roof keep in a hierarchy shown above (Figure 4). Generally, double eave roofs have a higher level, and hip roof’s level is higher than other kinds of roof with same eave number. So, double eave hip roof is the highest level. Besides these, there are still many other kinds of roof. Moreover, the combination of basic forms can also create mounts of roofs.
Figure 5 Bracket Sets
In the middle is the layer of bracket sets. The importance of bracket sets is equal to the arch which enlarges the inner space of man-made structures and provides an advance way to transfer the load from roof to columns. Furthermore, the bracket set can extend the scale of eaves and even resist forces from earthquake. A famous example—-The Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple is built in 1056A.D. As a totally timber frame tower, it used 54 different kinds of bracket sets, which help it survive from a dozen earthquakes during almost 1000 years (Figure 6).
Figure 6 The Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple
As mentioned before, roof, the bracket sets layer and columns form the timber frame. A question remained–how do they join into each other? The answer is the Tenon Structures without any construction glue or nails. The image below is how the beams connect with a corner column. After painting the structural gap will disappear, it’s impossible to see the form of a Tenon from outside. The bracket sets can also be recognized as a special form of Tenon structure.
Figure 7 Tenon structures, beam with column(left), bracket sets(right)
Figure 8 cross-section of a timber hall
The category of Chinese ancient buildings can be divided as building for royal use, buildings for religion and residential buildings. The famous cases below will give more ideas of ancient Chinese architecture:
- Main Hall of Fuoguang Temple, Shanxi,(857A.D., Tang Dynasty)
It’s known as the earliest existing timber frame building so far. The bracket sets is larger than other dynasties, which leads to a more extended eaves. The feature of this hall is plain without losing any solemnity. Obviously, it’s has a single eave hip roof.
Figure 9 Main Hall of Fuoguang Temple
Figure 10 A blueprint drawn by Liang Sicheng
- Hall of Supreme Harmony, Forbiden City, Beijing(1695A.D., Ming Dynasty)
The hall of supreme Harmony locates in the middle of the Forbidden City. It’s built to held essential ceremenies, like emperor ascended the golden throne. The roof of this hall is double eave hip roof. The lower eave with its column below create a extra corridor around. Morever, the bracket sets for the upper eave have nine layers, which presents it’s the highest level building during Ming/Ch’ing Dynasty.
Figure 11 Hall of Supreme Harmony
- Turret of Forbidden City, Beijing (1420A.D., Ming Dynasty)
The turret of Forbidden City is famous for its roof structure. The roof is a combination of gable and hip roofs, which has 72 ridges. It’s a single floor building without any columns in the inner spaces, so the wall and columns around support whole building. The middle part of roof is supported by the roof around with beams and bracket sets.
Figure 12 Turret of Forbidden City
- Zhuanlunzang Pavilion, Longxing Temple, Hebei Province( ca. 975A.D., Song Dynasty)
There is no specific translation of Zhuanlunzang. It can be defined as an octagonal cabinet restored Buddhist scriptures, which has a rotatable shaft in the middle. With small forces, the cabinet would spins up. This pavilion is built to keep a Zhuanlunzang inside. From the picture, it’s easy to tell the two floor structure with a gable and hip roof. There are also exquisite bracket sets at the top of Zhuanlunzang for decoration.
Figure 13 Zhuanlunzang Pavilion
- Tranditional residential buildings from different areas
Figure 14 Traditional residential buildings
A, Beijing Countyard. A typical yard built in the north part of China. the main façade is always facing south to get more sunlight during winter time.
B, Yao Cave, Loess Plateau, Northwest China. As rainfall is extremly less here, people build houses directly in the earth. The large thermal capacity of thick earth layer help to create a comfortble inner spaces without air-conditioning during winter and summer time.
C, Residential building of An’ hui Province. In summer time, the temperature and humidity are relatively high in this area. This kind of building is forcus on the efficiency of nature ventilation, using more openings. The higher wall surpass roof is to prevent fires from neighboorhood in case of fire emergency.
D, Rural dwelling of the Hakka in the mountainous areas in Fujian, Southeast of China
In Chinese it’s called “Tulou”, means the builidng made of soil. Actually, it’s clay mix with rocks like original concrete. The shape of Tulou is more like a huge castle, which let hundreds of people live inside and keep them away from beasts and enemies.
From these four cases, you may see “Form follows function”, the concept which is attribtued to Louis Sullivan, an famous American architect known as the “father of skyscrapers”. It looks like the buildings will transfer automaticly to fullfil the requirement from environment and human beings. It’s even like a process of nature selection when we look back in history. And the most interesting thing is to realise and understand the principles of it.
PPT BY ZHUO YANBIN