Chinese architecture – a little bit and in a nutshell

Chinese architecture goes way back in history, it is probably one of the most ancient building styles out there.
Now, if you have ever roamed in any Asian country or even China town in your own city, you probably noticed that the way the buildings are actually built is different than “normal” buildings. Now, when I say normal, I mean the western style, because obviously there are exceptions to that as well besides Asian build. Such as the Middle-eastern build / classic European style etc.



How are they different?
It’s different in a lot of ways, for example – by the details they pay attention to while building, The symmetry and balance of the building itself is very important – e.g the deviation length of the roof from the building sides will the same as well as the shape.
Not only that – the way the buildings inside a complex (courtyard) are organized are also symmetrical and have some logic behind the order, for example, the main building will be in the middle of the complex while on the sides there will be “secondary wings“, and often, if there is enough capital, there will be more than 2 wings – to keep the main building well inside the complex and to keep the even numbers of the buildings (very important) they might build a small “shack” at the entrance of the complex.

Example of courtyard (source Google).

Example of courtyard (source Google).

There are a few different styles of building in China, but the common for all is that the yard is inside, 2 examples:
1. The buildings are built on the edges of the property, while the yard / garden is inside and the buildings are connected with a pathway or sometimes with a corridor.
2. the second method is somewhat similar, but instead of a big open yard, the buildings are built closer together, with much less space between, and the “yard” is actually paths, and it is called “sky well” – a big plus of sky well, that because of the structure of the paths, the buildings are being vented, and the air keeps flowing – the hot air is raising and the cool air is being drawn, keeping good circulation.

Pointy roof - designed to "throw" the water further away from the building

Pointy roof – designed to “throw” the water further away from the building

The way the buildings are organized inside can tell you a lot about who lives there, for example, if you see someone living in the building that is facing the front – he is usually important, more than the people that are living in building facing the sides, and lease important are houses facing the rear.
Although buildings that are located in front are usually not for important people, most likely hired help – the important people will leave further inside, in the more quiet area.
Also, if you are the family elder for example you will live in a building facing south, if you are a junior member of the family you will live on west facing building – both will be in the middle of the complex while the buildings located peripherally is likely to be kitchen and (or) storage.
Also keep note that often there is a side that is windowless – that to prevent cold winds into the house. gardens inside complexes on the other hand are oddly not symmetrical, the reason for that, is the gardens are designed to be in a flow – so they cannot be symmetrical.
“Feng shui” is very important in Asian countries, as an example – if you walk into a house you are likely to see some sort of a separator from the rest of the house, unlike modern houses which are more “open spaced”, the separator is there to protect the house of evil spirits, which are believed to be traveling in straight lines.

Every sign has a different meaning and purpose

If you will take a close look at roof tops edges, you will see different kinds of ornament, often on each edge of each tile will be a different animal / flower etc – the reason for those emblems is to provide with good fortune, luck, prosperity etc.
Also, if you look at ancient buildings and temples, you will see very delicate and crafty curves and paintings, which are truly amazing.
The curves, according to Buddhists, are to ward off evil spirits, and the paintings are symbolizing the sky.
Another nice and interesting fact is – if you will look at the roof itself, you will see that it looks like it’s made out of round poles, and this is to represent bamboo, which is a symbol for youth and longevity.

But, these days, China is becoming more and more modernized.
More and more people are streaming from the villages to the big cities, hence there is less room for courtyards and the buildings tend to be more skyscraper style.
Although – important to note – even new building complexes are sometime organized “courtyard style” – there will be a yard inside the complex, and it will be somewhat symmetrical.

CCTV news bulding

CCTV news bulding

If you will look at the famous CCTV news building or Guomao international trade building in Beijing, or if you will walk along the Bund river in Shanghai, you will not see traditional Chinese architecture, but amazing modernization and bold building.

Not to mention the (somewhat dubious) new people’s daily newspaper headquarters building near the CCTV.

Is it good? Time will tell.
But I’m certain that the ancient Chinese way of building will not soon fade.
If there is one thing I’ve learned while living here – tradition is important.


I will just put it here...

I will just put it here… while in construction

People’s Daily Newspaper HQ.

Adam Disatnik

I have been living in China since early 2013 in the great Beijing. I try to travel as much as I can and try to understand the culture and the habits as much as possible. It's amazing how much can be learned about China, and about life, while living abroad in a totally different country than the one you grew up in. I love it! Catch up on my blog to try and understand along with me:) Adam.

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