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Chinese Architecture
Learn Chinese - History and Culture

 
Chinese architecture refers to a style of architecture that has taken shape in Asia over the centuries. The structural principles of Chinese architecture have remained largely unchanged, the main changes being only the decorative details. Since the Tang Dynasty, Chinese architecture has had a major influence on the architectural styles of Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The following article gives a cursory explanation of traditional Chinese architecture, before the introduction of Western building methods during the early 20th Century. Throughout the 20th Century, however, Western-trained Chinese architects have attempted to combine traditional Chinese designs into modern (usually government) buildings, with only limited success. Moreover, the pressure for Western-style urban development throughout contemporary China means that demand for traditional Chinese buildings is quickly disappearing.
Features, and Classification
There are certain features common to all Chinese architecture, regardless of specific region or use.

The most important is the Chinese architectural emphasis on the horizontal axis, in particular the construction of a heavy platform and a large roof that floats over this base, with the vertical walls not as well emphasized. This contrasts Western architecture, which tends to grow in height and depth. Chinese architecture stresses the visual impact of the width of the buildings. The halls and palaces in the Forbidden City, for example, 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. This of course does not apply to pagodas, which, in any case, are relatively rare. These ideas have found their way into modern Western architecture, for example through the work of Jørn Utzon (see page 221 of Weston (2002)).
Another important feature is its emphasis on symmetry, which connotes a sense of grandeur; this applies to everything from palaces to farmhouses. A notable exception is in the design of gardens, which tends to be as asymmetrical as possible. The principle underlying the garden's composition is to create enduring flow and emmulate nature.
Chinese buildings may be built with either red or grey bricks, but wooden structures are the most common; these are more capable of withstanding earthquakes, but are vulnerable to fire. The roof of a typical Chinese building is curved; there are strict classifications of gable types, comparable with the classical orders of European columns.

The use of certain colours, numbers the cardinal directions in traditional Chinese architecture reflected the belief in a type of immanence, where the nature of a thing could be wholely contained in its own form, without reference to an evanescent belief. Although the Western tradition gradually developed a body of architectural literature, little was written on the subject in China, and the earliest text, the Kaogongji, was never disputed. However, ideas about cosmic harmony and the order of the city were usually interpreted at their most basic level, so a reproduction of the "ideal" city never existed. Beijing as reconstructed throughout the 15th and 16th century remains the best example of traditional Chinese town planning.

Classification by structure
Chinese classifications for architecture include:
樓 (楼) lou (Multistory buildings)
台 tai (terraces)
亭 ting (pavilions)
閣 (阁) ge (Two-story pavilions)
塔 ta (Chinese pagodas)
軒 (轩) xuan (Verandas with windows)
榭 xie (Pavilions or houses on terraces)
屋 wu (Rooms along roofed corridors)


Imperial architecture
There were certain architectural features that were reserved solely for buildings built for the Emperor of China. One example is the use of yellow roof tiles; yellow having been the Imperial color, yellow roof tiles still adorn most of the buildings within the Forbidden City. The Temple of Heaven, however, uses blue roof tiles to symbolize the sky. The roofs are almost invariably supported by brackets, a feature shared only with the largest of religious buildings. The wooden columns of the buildings, as well as the surface of the walls, tend to be red in colour.

The Chinese dragon, an emblem reserved for the imperial regime, were heavily used on imperial architecture - on the roofs, on the beams and pillars, and on the doors. Only the buildings used by the imperial family were allowed to have nine gan (space between two columns); only the gates used by the Emperor could have five arches, with the centre one, of course, being reserved for the Emperor himself. The ancient Chinese favored the color red. The buildings faced south because the north had a cold wind.

Beijing became the capital of China after the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, completing the easterly migration of the Chinese capital begun since the Jin dynasty, the Ming uprising in 1368 reasserted Chinese authority and fixed Beijing as the seat of imperial power for the next five centuries. The Emperor and the Empress lived in palaces on the central axis of the Forbidden City, the Crown Prince at the eastern side, and the concubines at the back (therefore the numerous imperial concubines were often referred to as "The Back Palace Three Thousand").

However, during the mid-Qing Dynasty, the Emperor's residence was moved to the western side of the complex. It is misleading to speak of an axis in the Western sense of a visual perspective ordering facades, rather the Chinese axis is a line of privilege, usually built upon, regulating access - there are no vistas, but a series of gates and pavilions.

Numerology heavily influenced Imperial Architecture, hence the use of nine in much of construction (nine being the greatest number) and reason why The Forbidden City in Beijing is said to have 9,999.5 rooms - just short of the mythical 10,000 rooms in heaven. The importance of the East (the direction of the rising sun) in orienting and siting Imperial buildings is a form of solar worship found in many ancient cultures, where the notion of Ruler is affiliated with the Sun.

Commoner architecture
As for the commoners, be they bureaucrats, merchants or farmers, their houses tended to follow a set pattern: the centre of the building would be a shrine for the deities and the ancestors, which would also be used during festivities. On its two sides were bedrooms for the elders; the two wings of the building (known as "guardian dragons" by the Chinese) were for the junior members of the family, as well as the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen, although sometimes the living room could be very close to the center.
Sometimes the extended families became so large that one or even two extra pairs of "wings" had to be built. This resulted in a U-shaped building, with a courtyard suitable for farm work; merchants and bureaucrats, however, preferred to close off the front with an imposing front gate. All buildings were legally regulated, and the law held that the number of storeys, the length of the building and the colours used depended on the owner's class.

Religious architecture

Generally speaking, Buddhist architecture follow the imperial style. A large Buddhist monastery normally has a front hall, housing the statue of a Bodhisattva, followed by a great hall, housing the statues of the Buddhas. Accommodations for the monks and the nuns are located at the two sides. Buddhist monasteries sometimes also have pagodas, which may house the relics of the Gautama Buddha; older pagodas tend to be four-sided, while later pagodas usually have eight-sides.
Daoist architecture, on the other hand, usually follow the commoners' style. The main entrance is, however, usually at the side, out of superstition about demons which might try to enter the premise. (See feng shui.) In contrast to the Buddhists, in a Daoist temple the main deity is located at the main hall at the front, the lesser deities at the back hall and at the sides.

中国建筑
      中国古代建筑具有朴素淡雅的风格,主要以茅草、木材为建筑材料,以木架构为结构方式(柱、梁、枋、檩、椽等构件),按照结构需要的实际大小、形状组合在一起。这种建筑结构方式反映了古代宗法社会结构的清晰、有序和稳定。古代建筑由于木质材料制作的梁柱不易形成巨大的内部空间,古代建筑便巧妙地利用外埠自然空间,组成庭院。庭院是建筑地基本单位,它既是封闭的,又是开放的;既是人工的,又是自然的,可以俯植花草树木,仰观风云日月,成为古人“天人合一”观念的又一表现,也体现了中国人既含蓄内向,又开拓进取的民族性格。中国古代建筑品类繁盛,包括宫殿、陵园、寺院、宫观、园林、桥梁、塔刹等。

园林建筑

      中国的园林建筑历史悠久,在世界园林史上享有盛名。在3000多年前的周朝,中国就有了最早的宫廷园林。此后,中国的都城和地方著名城市无不建造园林,中国城市园林丰富多彩,在世界三大园林体系中占有光辉的地位。
      中国园林以山水为主,其布局灵活多变,将人工美与自然美融为一体,形成巧夺天工的奇异效果。这些园林建筑源于自然而高于自然,隐建筑物于山水之中,将自然美提升到更高的境界。
      中国园林建筑包括宏大的皇家园林和精巧的私家园林,这些建筑将山水地形、花草树木、庭院、廊桥及楹联匾额等精巧布设,使得山石流水处处生情,意境无穷。中国园林的境界大体分为治世境界、神仙境界、自然境界三种。

宫殿建筑
      宫殿建筑又称宫廷建筑,是皇帝为了巩固自己的统治,突出皇权的威严,满足精神生活和物质生活的享受而建造的规模巨大、气势雄伟的建筑物。这些建筑大都金玉交辉、巍峨壮观。
从秦朝开始,“宫”成为皇帝及皇族居住的地方,宫殿则成为皇帝处理朝政的地方。中国宫殿建筑的规模在以后的岁月里不断加大,其典型特征是斗拱硕大,以金黄色的琉璃瓦铺顶,有绚丽的彩画、雕镂细腻的天花藻井、汉白玉台基、栏板、梁柱,以及周围的建筑小品。北京故宫太和殿就是典型的宫殿建筑。
      为了体现皇权的至高无上,表现以皇权为核心的等级观念,中国古代宫殿建筑采取严格的中轴对称的布局方式:中轴线上的建筑高大华丽,轴线两侧的建筑相对低小简单。由于中国的礼制思想里包含着崇敬祖先、提倡孝道和重五谷、祭土地神的内容,中国宫殿的左前方通常设祖庙(也称太庙)供帝王祭拜祖先,右前方则设社稷坛供帝王祭祀土地神和粮食神(社为土地,稷为粮食),这种格局被称为“左祖右社”。古代宫殿建筑物自身也被分为两部分,即“前朝后寝”:“前朝”是帝王上朝治政、举行大典之处,“后寝”是皇帝与后妃们居住生活的所在。
      中国宫殿建筑以北京的故宫为代表。故宫规模之大、风格之独特、陈设之华丽、建筑之辉煌,在世界宫殿建筑中极为罕见。

寺庙
      庙是中国佛教建筑之一。起源于印度的寺庙建筑,从北魏开始在中国兴盛起来。这些建筑记载了中国封建社会文化的发展和宗教的兴衰,具有重要的历史价值和艺术价值。
      中国古人在建筑格局上有很深的阴阳宇宙观和崇尚对称、秩序、稳定的审美心理。因此中国佛寺融合了中国特有的祭祀祖宗、天地的功能,仍然是平面方形、南北中轴线布局、对称稳重且整饬严谨的建筑群体。此外,园林式建筑格局的佛寺在中国也较普遍。这两种艺术格局使中国寺院既有典雅庄重的庙堂气氛,又极富自然情趣,且意境深远。

陵墓
      陵墓建筑是中国古代建筑的重要组成部分,中国古人基于人死而灵魂不灭的观念,普遍重视丧葬,因此,无论任何阶层对陵墓皆精心构筑。在漫长的历史进程中,中国陵墓建筑得到了长足的发展,产生了举世罕见的、庞大的古代帝、后墓群;且在历史演变过程中,陵墓建筑逐步与绘画、书法、雕刻等诸艺术门派融为一体,成为反映多种艺术成就的综合体。
      陵墓建筑是中国古建筑中最宏伟、最庞大的建筑群之一。这些陵墓建筑,一般都是利用自然地形,靠山而建;也有少数建造在平原上。中国陵园的布局大都是四周筑墙,四面开门,四角建造角楼。陵前建有甬道,甬道两侧有石人、石兽雕像,陵园内松柏苍翠、树木森森,给人肃穆、宁静之感。

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 November 2009 09:52
 

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