Ancient Chinese wooden architecture

Ancient Chinese wooden architecture is the least studied of any of the world's great architectural traditions from the western point of view, and its study is relatively new. Although Chinese architectural history reaches back nearly ten millennia, descriptions of Chinese architecture is often confined to the well known Forbidden City and little else is explored in the west.cite book
first=Nancy W.
last= Steinhardt
year= 2002
title=Chinese Architecture
edition= English Ed.
publisher=Yale University Press
location=
pages= pp 1–5
id= ISBN 0-300-09559-7
] Although even common features of Chinese architecture have been unified into a vocabulary illustrating uniquely Chinese forms and methods, until recently data has not been available. Because of the lack of knowledge of the roots of Chinese architecture, description of its elements is often translated into Western terms and architectural theory, losing its unique Chinese meanings.A cause of this deficiency is that the two most important Chinese government architecturemanuals, the Song Dynasty "Yingzao Fashi" and Qing Architecture Standards have never being translated into any western language.

Archaeological record

To some people, all Chinese architecture tends to look the same. This is in part because of the Chinese early method of standardizing and prescribing uniform features of structures through bureaucratically supported manuals and drawings that were passed down through generations and accounts for the similar features persisting over thousands of years, starting with the earliest evidence of Chinese imperial urbanism, now available through excavations starting in the early 1980s. These plans include, for example, two-dimensional architectural drawings as early as the first millennium CE, and explain the strong tendency for the shared architectural features in Chinese architecture that evolved through a complicated but unified evolutionary process over the millennia.cite book
last =Steinhardt
first =Nancy Shatzman
author-link =
title =Chinese Imperial Planning
place=
publisher =University of Hawaii Press
year =1999
location =Honolulu
volume =
edition =
pages=pp IX–XI, 1–6, 36
id =
isbn = 0-8248-2196-3
] Generations of builders and craftsmen recorded their work and the collectors who collated the information into building standards (for example "Yingzao Fashi") and Qing Architecture Standards were widely available, in fact strictly mandated, and passed down. This recording of practices led to the transmitting through the generations the unique system of construction that became a body of unique architectural characteristics.

However, the dependence on text for archaeological descriptions has yielded to the realization that archaeological excavations by the People's Republic of China now provides superior visual evidence of Chinese daily life and ceremonies from the Neolithic times to the more recent centuries. For example, the excavation of tombs has provided evidence to produce facsimiles of wooden building parts and yielded site plans several thousand years old. The recent excavation of the Prehistoric Beifudi site is an example.

Three components make up the foundation of ancient Chinese architecture: the foundation platform, the timber frame, and the decorative roof. In addition, the most fundamental feature is a four-sided rectangular enclosure, that is, structures with walls that are formed at right angles and oriented cardinally. The traditional Chinese belief in a square-shaped universe with the four world quarters is manifested physically in structures.

Foundation

By the middle Neolithic period, the use of rammed earth and unbaked mud bricks was prevalent. "Hangtu", the pounding of layers of earth to make walls, alters, and foundations remained elements of Chinese construction for the next several millennia. The Great Wall of China, built of pounded earth, was erected beginning in the first millennium BC. Typical was the use of sundried mud bricks and rammed mud walls built around a wood frames. Hard pounded earth floors were strengthened through heating. Introduction of whitewashed alled , painted pottery.

Timber frame

A basic achievement is the load bearing timber frame, a network of interlocking wooden supports, the skeleton of the building. This is considered China's major contribution to worldwide architectural technology. Unlike western architecture, in ancient Chinese wooden architecture, the wall only defined an enclosure, and did not form a weight bearing element. Buildings in China have been supported by wooden frames for as long as seven millennia. The emergence of the characteristic articulated wooden Chinese frame emerged during the Neolithic period. Seven thousand years ago mortise and tenon joinery employing notches and inserts was used to build wood-framed houses. (The oldest are at Hemudu site at Zhejiang). Over a thousand of these sites have been identified, with circular, square or oblong shapes. During the Yangshao culture in the Middle Neolithic, circular and rectangular semisubterranean structures are found and by this time are found wooden beams and pillars. Wooden beams or earth supported the roofs which were most likely thatched.cite book
first=Lui
last= Xujie
year= 2002
title=Chinese Architecture -- The Origins of Chinese Architecture
edition= English Ed.
publisher=Yale University Press
location=
pages= pp 5–15
id= ISBN 0-300-09559-7
]

As the villages and towns grew they adhered to a symmetrical shapes. the importance of centrality in the layout of homes, alters, and villages.In traditional Chinese architecture, every facet of a building was decorated using various materials and techniques. Simple ceiling ornamentations in ordinary buildings were made of wooden strips and covered with paper. More decorative was the lattice ceiling, constructed of woven wooden strips or sorghum stems fastened to the beams.

"Dougong" is a unique structural element of interlocking wooden brackets, one of the most important elements in traditional Chinese architecture. It first appeared in buildings of the late centuries BC and evolved into a structural network that joined pillars and columns to the frame of the roof. "Dougong" was widely used in the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC) and developed into a complex set of interlocking parts by its peak in the Tang and Song periods. Since the ancient times when the Chinese first began to use wood for building, joinery has been a major focus and craftsmen cut the wooden pieces to fit so perfectly that no glue or fasteners are ever necessary.cite book
first=Nancy W.
last= Steinhardt
year= 2002
title=Chinese Architecture
edition= English Ed.
publisher=Yale University Press
location=
pages= pp 1, 7
id= ISBN 0-300-09559-7
]

Decorative roof and ceiling

In traditional Chinese architecture, every facet of a building was decorated using various materials and techniques. Simple ceiling ornamentations in ordinary buildings were made of wooden strips and covered with paper. More decorative was the lattice ceiling, constructed of woven wooden strips or sorghum stems fastened to the beams. Because of the intricacy of its ornamentation, elaborate cupolas were reserved for the ceilings of the most important structures such as tombs and altars, although it is not clear what the spiritual beliefs of the early Chinese were, as alters appear to have served as burial sites.In traditional Chinese architecture roofs and ceiling, like the other structural elements, were constructed without nails, the layered pieces of the ceiling are held together by interlocking bracket sets ("dougong").

Elaborate wooden coffers ("zaojing") bordered by a round, square, or polygon frame with its brackets projecting inward and upward from its base were used around the 7th century. Deeply recessed panels shaped like a well (square at the base with a rounded top) were fitted into the ceiling's wooden framework. The center panel of the ceiling was decorated with water lilies or other water plants. The relationship of the name to water stems from the ancient fear that wooden buildings would be destroyed by fire and that water from the "zaojing" would prevent or quell the fire's flames.cite book
first=Nancy W.
last= Steinhardt
year= 2002
title=Chinese Architecture
edition= English Ed.
publisher=Yale University Press
location=
pages= p. 8
isbn= 0-300-09559-7
]

The tomb of Empress Dowager Wenmind of the Northern Wei Dynasty has a coffer in the flat-topped, vaulted ceiling in the back chamber of her tomb.cite book
first=Fu
last= Xinian
year= 2002
title=Chinese Architecture -- The Three Kingdoms, Western and Eastern Jin, and Northern and Southern Dynasties
edition= English Ed.
publisher=Yale University Press
location=
pages= p. 76
isbn= 0-300-09559-7
] The Baoguo Temple in Yuyao in Zhejiang has three cupolas in the ceiling, making it unique among surviving examples of Song architecture.Fact|date=February 2008

Sanquing Hall (Hall of the Three Purities) is the only Yuan period structure with three cupolas in its ceiling.cite book
first=Gao
last= Daiheng
year= 2002
title=Chinese Architecture -- The Lia, Song, Xi Xia, and Jin Dynasties
edition= English Ed.
publisher=Yale University Press
location=
pages= pp 234–235
isbn= 0-300-09559-7
]

Notes

External links

* [http://books.google.com/books?id=u8Akcp983oYC&pg=PA179&lpg=PA179&dq=dougong&source=web&ots=uuAzfAGO7k&sig=XF6Fmp-hBDhGQrFQFIYX0Q5WVBo#PPA179,M1The Arts of China to A.D. 900]
* [http://www.pasadena.edu/chinese/cultural/architecture.html Chinese architecture]


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