"The Art of Chinese Architecture, Five Necessities of Chinese Culture"

Chinese Architecture:

People who come to the Taiwan for the first time and see examples of traditional Chinese buildings with their curved roofs, bold colors, and intricate outlines may wonder how the Chinese ever came up with this unique architectural style.


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The Art of Chinese Architecture   中國建築

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Chinese Culture >> Chinese Architecture

The basic feature of Chinese architecture is rectangular-shaped units of space joined together into a whole. Temples in ancient Greece also employed rectangular spaces, but the overall effect tended to austerity. The Chinese style, by contrast, combines rectangular shapes varying in size and position according to importance into an organic whole, with each level and component clearly distinguished. As a result, traditional Chinese style buildings have an imposing yet dynamic and intriguing exterior.

The combination of units of space in traditional Chinese architecture abides by the principles of balance and symmetry. The main structure is the axis, and the secondary structures are positioned as two wings on either side to form the main rooms and yard. Residences, official buildings, temples, and palaces all follow these same basic principles. The distribution of interior space reflects Chinese social and ethical values. In traditional residential buildings, for example, members of a family are assigned living quarters based on the family hierarchy. The master of the house occupies the main room, the elder members of the master's family live in the compound in back, and the younger members of the family live in the wings to the left and right; those with seniority on the left, and the others on the right.

Another characteristic of Chinese architecture is its use of a wooden structural frame with pillars and beams, and earthen walls surrounding the building on three sides. The main door and windows are in front. Chinese have used wood as a main construction material for thousands of years; wood to the Chinese represents life, and "life" is the main thing Chinese culture in its various forms endeavors to communicate. This feature has been preserved up to the present.

Traditional rectangular Chinese buildings are divided into several rooms, based on the structure of the wooden beams and pillars. In order to top the structure with a deep and over hanging roof, the Chinese invented their own particular type of support brackets, called tou-kung, which rise up level by level from each pillar. These brackets both support the structure and are also a distinctive and attractive ornamentation. This architectural style was later adopted by such countries as Korea and Japan.

Chinese Architecture Some special architectural features resulted from the use of wood. The first is that the depth and breadth of interior space is determined by the wooden structural frame. The second is the development of the technique of applying color lacquers to the structure to preserve the wood. These lacquers were made in brilliant, bold colors, and became one of the key identifying features of traditional Chinese architecture. Third is the technique of building a structure on a platform, to prevent damage from moisture. The height of the platform corresponds to the importance of the building. A high platform adds strength, sophistication, and stateliness to large buildings.

The highly varied color murals found on a traditional Chinese building have both symbolic and aesthetic significance, and may range from outlines of dragons and phoenixes and depictions of myths to paintings of landscapes, flowers, and birds. One notable architectural development in southern China, particularly in Taiwan, is fine wood sculpture. Such sculptures, together with the murals, give the structure an elegant and pleasing ornamental effect.

Chinese Architecture Most traditional architecture in Taiwan today traces its origins to southern Fukien and eastern Kwangtung provinces. There are many different types of traditional style residences in Taiwan, but most are variations and expansions on the central theme of the san-ho-yuan ("three-section com-pound," a central building with two wings attached perpendicular to either side) and the szu-ho-yuan ("four-section compound," a san-ho-yuan with a wall added in front to connect the two wings). Two examples of relatively large and well-known residences of these types are the Lin Family Compound in Panchiao, a suburb of Taipei, and the Lin Family Compound in Wufeng, near Taichung. In the past, relatively wealthy Chinese people would often set up a garden in the back or to the sides of the compound. Such gardens are to be found in the two Lin residences in Panchiao and Wufeng. They are larger in scale even than the Soochow Gardens in the Yangtze River Valley area.

A broad variety of architectural styles are employed in Chinese temples. The religions of the temples vary from Buddhist to Taoist to ancestral and folk religion, but all share the same basic temple structure. With Taiwan's rich folk religious tradition, temples are to be seen everywhere; they are one of the island's unique cultural features. A conservative estimate numbers Taiwan's temples at over 5,000, many of which have particular architectural significance. Some of the more famous and important examples of traditional Chinese temple architecture in Taiwan include the Lungshan Temple and Tienhou Temple in Lukang, the Lungshan Temple in Taipei, and the Chaotien Temple in Peikang. The Lungshan Temple in Lukang is particularly noted for its long history and sophisticated artistry.

Ornamentation on a buildingChinese Architecture on the wall The ornamentation on traditional buildings in Taiwan is especially exquisite; it is like a comprehensive Chinese folk art exhibit. Its main elements include color painting; calligraphy; wood, stone, and clay sculpture; ceramics; and cut-and-paste art. Thus an acquaintance with Chinese traditional architecture in Taiwan can at the same time be a gateway to understanding China's rich folk culture


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