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Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Story of Architecture in China and Japan


Judge solely by existing remains, an architectural history of China would give undue prominence, in the early Buddhist period, no brick and stone pagodas, as little is left from the stronger tradition of building in wood.  Some missing pieces of the puzzle are provided by Japanese building that copied Chinese styles.

DISCLAIMER:  All text from this blog entry are taken from the book The Story of Architecture by Patrick Nuttgens and partly from wikipedia.


Ancient China developed a singular, intensely conservative culture, which at no point sought to enshrine itself in monumental architecture to guarantee its survival.  Buildimgs were mainly wooden and not intended to last, continuity lying instead in the indelible, all embracing body of beliefs by which architecture was regulated.

The most important of these ideas was Confucianism.  Confucius taught the ethical importance of ritual in public and private life.  More mystical was daoism, inspired by Laozi, a contemporary of Confucius, but not crystallized into a religion until the 2nd century AD.  It taught that the Dao was through patience, simplicity and harmony with nature.  Confucianism, with its rigid and hierarchical conception of soceity, influenced the axial layout of towns, houses, temples and palaces, while Daoism inspired the design of gardens, which were tightly packed with an informal arrangement of pavilions, walkways and lakes.

KAOHSIUNG CONFUCIUS TEMPLE, TAIWAN.   Shows example of Chinese roof supported on a tier system.
Roofs.  The most distinctive feature of a Chinese building was its roof.  Instead of the rigid triangular frame of roofs in the West, the Chinese roof was supported on a tier system of diminishing beams directing the thrust vertically downwards through the posts.

Dougong.    It is a unique structural element of interlocking wooden brackets, one of the most important elements in traditional Chinese architecture.  The use of dougong 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 ancient Chinese during the Spring and Autumn Period and developed into a complex set of interlocking parts by its peak in the Tang and Song periods. The pieces are fitted together by joinery alone without glue or fasteners, due to the precision and quality of the carpentry.  After the Song Dynasty, brackets and bracket sets became more ornamental than structural when used in palatial structures and important religious buildings.

Ornament, decorated eaves.  Neimen Purple Bamboo Temple in Taiwan best exemplified the traditional roof ornament showing a decorated eaves with name board.

CHIWEN- Imperial Roof Decoration 
Ornament.  Roof ridges and hips were embelished with acroteria, often featuring dragon motifs,  Bold colors were used, determined by social rank.  In the grandest buildings roofs of yellow or blue are often offset by red pillars and intricate polychrome paintwork under the eaves.  Imperial buildings had their coffered ceilings decorated to symbolize the dome of Heaven.  Eaves tiles terminated in decoratively treated roundels.

Ornament.  The lions are usually depicted in pairs.  When used as statuory, the pair would consist of a male resting his paw upon an embroidered ball (in imperial contexts, representing supremacy over the world) and a female restraining a playful cub that is on its back (representing nurture).  The lions are traditionally carved from decorative stone, such as marble and granite or cast in bronze or iron. Because of the high cost of these materials and the labor required to produce them, private use of guardian lions was traditionally reserved for wealthy or elite families.  Indeed, a traditional symbol of a family's wealth or social status was the placement of guardian lions in front of the family home.

Ornament.  Statues of guardian lions have traditionally stood in front of Chinese Imperial palaces. Imperial tombs, government offices, temples, and the homes of government officials and the wealthy, from the Han Dynasty and were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits.  They are also used in other artistic contexts, for example on door-knockers, and in pottery.  Pairs of guardian lion statues are still common decorative and symbolic elements at the entrances to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other structures, with one sitting on each side of the entrance, in China and in other places around the world where the Chinese people have immigrated and settled, especially in local Chinatowns.

Buddhist architecture

Early Buddhist temples took over from palaces the standard plan of a rectangular enclosure surrounded by galleries and containing a series of south-facing buildings arranged axially, with subsidiaryy structures to the east and west. To this scheme one or more pagodas were added.  Behind main image-hall was a hall of meditation with library on upper storey.  As well as central altar furnished with images, the image-hall often housed a secondary altar dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.


Pagodas were originally attached to Buddhist monasteries and served a votive or reliquary purpose. Shape evolved from reaction of Indian stupa and shikhara upon Chinese multi-storied belvedere (lou). Generally of wood, although brick and stone were also used from 6th century BC.

Dragon and Tiger Pagodas.  Located in Taiwan, the towers has the height equivalent to seven stories. In front of the buildings are the statues of a dragon and tiger designed as a tunnel where visitor can enter from the dragon's mouth and exit at the tiger's mouth, which is symbolical to having an auspicious wealth.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda.  It is a Buddhist pagoda located in southern Xi'an, Shaanxi province.   It was built in 652 during the Tang Dynasty and originally had five storeys, although the structure was rebuilt in 704 during the reign of Epress Wu Zetian and its exterior brick facade was renovated during the Ming Dynasty.  One of the pagoda's many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by the Buddhist translator and traveler Xuanzang. - wikipedia

Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Also called Little Wild Goose Pagoda, and is one of the significant pagodas in the city of Xi'an, China, the site of the old Han and Tang capital Chan'an.  The pagoda stood 45 m (147 ft) until the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake.  The earthquake shook the pagoda and damaged it so that it now stands at a height of 43 m (141 ft.) with fifteen levels of tiers.  The pagoda has a brick frame built around a hollow interior, and its square base and shape reflect the building style of other pagodas from the era. - wikipedia

The Forbidden City, Peking.  It is a walled and moated mile-long rectangle, was the Imperial palace of the Ming dynasty after capital moved to Peking.   Substantial 17th century reworking did little to alter original appearance and axial, south facing layout.  Entrance through double-roofed, 5-towered Wumen (Meridian Gate). Within, on a marble platform, is a splendid ensemble of halls:  Taihedian (Hall of Supreme Harmony), Zhongedian (Hall of Middle Harmony) and Baohedia (Hall of Protective Harmony).

Buildings of the Forbidden City show Ming liking for long, low facades.  Colour is used to spectacular effect: white marble, red woodwork, polychrome eaves and gently curved roofs in the Imperial yellow.

Wumen.  the Meridian Gate is the southern (and largets) gate of the Forbidden City.  It has five arches. The three central arches are close together, the two flanking arches are farther apart from the three central arches.  The center arch was formerly reserved for the Emperor alone; the exceptions were the Empress, who could enter it once on the day of her wedding and the top three scholars of the triennial civil examinations, who left the exams through the central arch.  All other officials and servants had to use the four side arches.

Above the arches are a series of building.  the central one is the palace of nine bays wide, with double roofs.  In each side, the 13 bays-wide building, single roof, connects the two pavilions on the top.

Tiahemen.  Behind Wumen, The Meridian Gate, one can see five bridges with a courtyard beyond.  Occupying the center of the northern side of this courtyard is Taihemen, The Gate of Supreme Harmony.

The Inner Golden River flows beneath the bridges which are consequently referred to as The Inner Golden River Bridges.  The central bridge was used exclusively by the emperor.  The two flanking it were use by members of the royal family.  The two outer bridges were for court officials.  The bridges have marble balustrades richly carved with dragon and phoenix motifs.  With the ever present threat of fire damage to the palace building, the river served as a water reservoir as well as being a decorative feature.

Tiananmen.  First built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, Tiananmen is often referred to as the front entrance to the Forbidden City.  However, the Meridian Gate (Wumen) is the first entrance to the Forbidden City proper, while Tiananmen was the entrance to the Impreial City, within which the Forbidden City was located.  

Hall of Supreme Harmony.  The Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian) is the largest hall within the Forbidden City.  It is located at its central axis, behind the Gate of Surpreme Harmony.  Built above three levels of marble stone base, and surrounded by bronze incense burners, the Hall of Supreme Harmony is one of the largest wooden structures within China.

Together with the Hall of Central Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony, the three halls constitute the heart of the Outer Court of the Forbidden City.

Hall of Preserving Harmony.  Rectangular in plan, it is similar to, but smaller in scale than, the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  It was used for rehearsing ceremonies, and was also the site of the final stage of Imperial examination.

Hall of Central Harmony.  It is smaller than the other two halls, and is square in shape.  It is used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies.

The Temple of Heaven.  To south of Imperial City Peking, on triple marble platform, stands the circular Temple of Heaven.  At near-by Altar of Heaven, a mound of three concentric terraces in a white marble, the Emperor gave offerings to nature deities revered by Confucian state.   To east, within the same double-walled park, is the Palace of Purification, an exquisite blue-roofed moated retreat where the Emperor fasted in preparation for ritual.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.  It is a magnificent triple-gabled circular building, 36 meters in diameter and 38 meters tall, built on three levels of marblestone base, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests.  The building is completely wooden, with no nails.  The original building was burned down by fire caused by lightning  in 1889.  The current building was re-built several years after the incident.

Double-Ring Longevity Pavilion.  The original structure was built in Zhongnanhai, Emperor Qianlong built this pavilion to celebrate his mother's 50th birthday.  It was moved to the Temple of Heaven in 1977.

Bailou, derived from Indian toranas, are multiple arches used as ceremonial entrances to temples or tombs, or occasionally spanning a street.  There is a fine 5-arched example in white marble with blue tiles at the entrance to the Way of the Spirits leading to the Ming tombs north-west of Peking.

Bailou, Way of the Spirits.  The road to the Thirteen Ming Tombs begins beneath an imposing stone portico that stands at the valley entrance in white marble with blue tiles.

Gate of the Great Piety.  An exquisite example of bailou outside of mainland China.  It is located in the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taiwan.

Ming Tombs.  Ling'en Hall is by far the most magnificent and impressive above-ground construction of all the Ming tombs.  Also called the "Offering Hall" memorial tablets with the names of the tomb occupants were kept in the Ming dynasty.  Sacrificial ceremonies were held inside the hall on the anniversaries of the deceased.

Eastern Qing Tombs.  They are an imperial mausoleum complex of the Qing dynasty and are the largest, most complete, and best preserved extant mausoleum complex in China.  The tomb complex stretches over a total area of 80 square kilometers.   At the center of the Eastern Qing Tombs lies Xiaoling, the tomb of the Shunzhi Emperor who became the first Qing emperor to rule over China. Shunzhi was also the first emperor to be buried in the area.

Dacheng Hall, Confucius Mausoleum.  It is the architectural center of the present-day complex. The hall covers an area of 54 by 34 m and stands slightly less than 32 m tall.  It is supported by 28 richly decorated pillars, each 6 m high and 0.8 m in diameter and carved in one piece out of local rock. The 10 columns on the front side of the hall are decorated with coiled dragons.  Dacheng Hall served as the principal place for offering sacrifices to the memory of Confucius.

Chinese Gardens. (example Summer Palace, northwest of Peking) were well furnished with pavilions for contemplation, galleries, bridges, decorative latticework and walls with interesting, shaped doorways and windows.

Chengyang Bridge.  Located in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the bridge is a combination of bridge, corridor, veranda and Chinese pavilion.  It has two platforms (one at each end of the bridge), 3 piers, 3 spans, 5 pavilions, 19 verandas, and three floors.  The piers are made of stone, the upper structures are mainly wooden, and the roof is covered with tiles.  The bridge has wooden handrails on both sides.  It serves as the link two populous villages.  As a result, there is substantial daily traffic on the bridge.

Bell Tower of Xi'an.  Built in 1384 during the early Ming Dynasty, is a symbol of the city of Xi'an and one of the grandest of its kind in China.  The Bell Tower also contains several large bronze-cast bells from the Tang Dynasty.  The tower base is square and it covers an area of 1,377 square meters.  The tower is a brick and timber structure and close to 40 meters high.

Yueyang Tower.  It is an ancient Chinese tower in Yueyang, Hunan province, on the shore of Lake Dongting.  Alongside the Pavilion of Prince Teng and Yellow Crane Tower, it is one of the Three Great Towers of Jiangnan.

Yellow Crane Tower.  It is a famous and historic tower, first built in 223 AD.  The current structure, however, was rebuilt in 1981 at a one kilometre distance from the original site, and bears little resemblance to the historical Yellow Crane Tower.  The tower stands on Sheshan (Snake Hill), at the bank of Yangtze River in Wuchang District, Wuhan, in Hubei province of central China.

Shaolin Temple.  Shaolin Temple is a Buddhist temple in Dengfeng county, Zhengzhou, Henan province, China.  The temple is situated in the forests of Shaoshi Mountain.  Shaolin is one of the four holy Buddhist temples of China.  Because of its long association with Shaolin Kung Fu and development of many other Chinese martial arts, it is considered the cradle of kung fu.  So that the Chinese saying goes: "All martial arts under heaven arose out of Shaolin."

Dule Monastery.  It is a Buddhist temple located in the town of Jixian, in Ji County, under the administration of the city of Tianjin, China.  The temple is of historical as well as architectural significance.  Its oldest surviving buildings are two timber-frame structures, the front gate and the central hall (pavilion) that houses a colossal clay statue of the goddess Guanyin.  Both structures date back to the Liao Dynasty and are among the oldest surviving wooden buildings in China. - wikipedia


Japan's abundant forests combined with the ever-present threat of earthquakes and typhoons to produce a vigorous tradition of wooden architecture.  Heavy rains and extreme heat led to low, wide eaves and for further weather-proofing building were raised on open wooden platforms.

Among early native forms, the distinctive thatched shrine evolved by followers of the Shinto religion has survive owing to regular rebuilding.  Equally important was the Chinese treabeated style brought over from the early 7th century by Chinese and Korean craftsmen to satisfy the growing demand for Buddhist temples.

The Trabeated Style.  Post-and-beam architecture, at first imitated meticulously from Chinese models, acquired a unique character by virtue of superior wood-working skills an increasing fondness for asymmetrical layout and a refined airiness of design.  Spaces between timber columns were often filled with doors or windows extending from floor almost to ceiling.  Decorations was generally restrained.

Shinto Shrines.  One of the most venerated types of shrine was a raised hut-like structure with verandah, steep gabled roof with curious round timbers on ridge, and gable-end doorway set to one side of an axial pillar.  Best example is the Izumo Shrine, south-east of Tokyo, periodically rebuilt since 5th century AD and has Chinese-style curved roof.

Inner Shrine.  The famous Inner Shrine, in Mie Prefecture, was dedicated to the sun goddess.  Built in untreated white cypress in 5th-6th century style, reconstructed every 20 years.

Itsukushima Shrine.  Located in Hiroshima Prefecture, it integrates sea into arrangement of walkways, platforms, halls.  Typical symbolic gate (torii) rises out of water.

Buddhist Architecture.  The oldest form of Japanese Buddhist monastery was a sacred enclosure in the Chinese style with an image-hall (kondo) and one or more pagodas.  From the 9th century the Tendai and Shingon sects built mountain monasteries on a less symmetrical plan.  After the emergence in the 10th-11th century of a movement based on the Amida Buddha, many nobles created temples imitating the Amida's Western paradise.

The 7th century structure of Horyu-Ji, Nara are the world's oldest surviving wooden buildings.  The layout, with pagoda and hall side by side, abandoned Chinese axial symmetry.  Kondo one-storied despite double roof.  Gatehouse (chu-mon) is closest to original 7th century state.

Nara also boasts the vast Todai-ji (founded 745), built to rival Chinese Tang temples.  Great Buddha Hall is world's largest wooden structure , although now only two-thirds of original size.  Tiles roof has upswept eaves.  Great double south gate, the Nandamon, was built late 12th century in forceful south China idiom misleadingly called the "Indian style".  Also at Todai-ji:  Hokkedo Chapel (733), with coffered ceiling.

The Shoso-in is the treasure house that belongs to Todai-ji, Nara.  The building is in the azekura log-cabin style, with a raised floor.  It houses artifacts connected to Emperor Shomu and Empress Komyo, as well as arts and crafts of the Tempyo period of Japanese history.  Shoso-in is the oldest surviving building of this style in Japan.

All but one of extant early pagodas are 5-storied.  The exception (8th century) is at Yakushi-ji, Nara. Pagoda at Daigo-ji (10th century), Kyoto, based on Tang predecessor.

Byodo-in Temple.  The main building in Byodo-in is the Phoenix Hall, that consists of a central hall, flanked by twin wing corridors on both sides of the central hall, and a tail corridor.  It is a representation of Amida Buddha's paradise, named after bird-like plan.  Facade, fronting lake, is an elegant miniature of a Chinese Tang palace.  Interior is rich in metal-and lacquer-work and mother-of-pearl.

Secular Architecture.  In Kyoto in the 9th century AD an elaborate kind of aristocratic house developed, named the shinden (literally "sleeping palace") style.  The shinden, a lakeside building with latticed doors instead of exterior walls, was connected to subsidiary structures by corridors planned in relation to a series of artificial landscapes.

The Kinkaku-ji.  The famous 14th century Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), Kyoto was reconstructed in 1955, owes a debt to the shinden style.  However, chapel on uppermost of three stories is influenced by more complex "Chinese style" favoured by Zen Buddhism.  Pavilion is set in lake, and seems to float over it gracefully.

The Katsura Palace.  The most splendid Japanese country house is the katsura Palace, Kyoto (early 17th century).  Its contrived simlicity reflects the spirit of the tea ceremony.  Wood is left plain, sometimes even retaining its bark.  Ko-shoin (entrance block) in shoin style; Chu-shoin (middle block) and Shin-gotten (rear block) in sukiya style.  

Teahouses.  The tea ceremony, an expression of Zen Buddhism, took place in a thatched teahouse (chaseki) inspired by the farmer's cottage.  Ornament was usually limited to flowers or paintings displayed in tokomona for contemplation.  Teahouses were seaprated buildings from 16th century.  The Matsushita-an Teahouse, Kyoto, dates from this period, as does the Shokin-Tei, Katsura.

Cha-shitsu Rinkaku is a small house for Japanese tea ceremony in the property of Tsuruga-jo Castle. The original has been preserved throughout its history of removing from the castle and returning to the castle with repairs.  Rinkaku Teahouse is an important cultural property of Fukushima Prefecture.

Castles.  The only large stone buildings of Japan are the castles of the late 16th-early 17th century. White brick walls of keep and subsidairy donjons rose in up to 5 stories, each with Chinese-style upturned eaves, above massive plinths of polygonal stone blocks.  Interiors, in shoin style, were sometimes palatial.  Finest extant stronghold is Himeji Castle (late 16th century), Hyogo Prefecture.  Main 5-storey keep connected to three smaller keeps by fortified covered corridors.  Earlier keep at Marouka Castle (1576), Nijo Castle (1603), a fortified palace, was built as Kyoto residence of shogun (generalssime) Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Himeji Castle.  It is the largest castle in Japan.  It serves as an excellent example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, containing many of the defensive and architectural features associated with Japanese castles.

Nijo Castle.  It is a flatland castle located in Kyoto, Japan.  The castle consists of two concentric rings (Kuruwa) of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of Honmaru Palace, various support buildings and several gardens.  The surface area of the castle is 275,000 square meters, of which 8000 square meters is occupied by building.  It is one of the seventeen assets of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which have been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Nikko.  The Edo period (1603-1868) was an age of architectural opulence exemplified at its most spectacular by the shrines at Nikk0, centered on the Tosho-gu, the mausoleum of Tokugawa, Ieyasu.  Polychrome and glided decoration abounds.  The famous Yomei-mon (middle gate) is encrusted with a plethora of animal carvings.

Toshogu Shrine.
  A Tosho-gu is any Shinto shrine in which Tokugawa leyasu is enshrined with the name Tosho Daigongen.  Leyasu was the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which is the third and last of the sogunal governments in Japanese history.  The most famous Toshogu is located in Nikko in Tochiqi Prefecture.  It is one of Japans most popular destinations for tourist.

One of Toshogu Shrine's structure is the Yomeimon gate.  It is one of the twelve gates in the Imperial court in Kyoto.  It is also consider as the masterpiece of building in Toshogu shrine.  It is 11 meter high, and is double layered.  Also, frontage is 7 meter and is 4.4 meter deep.  Twelve pillars are colored by white pigment, and scrolling patterns are carved on the pillars.


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