The basic feature of Chinese architecture is rectangular units of space joined together into a whole. Temples in ancient Greece also employed rectangular spaces, but the overall effect had austere tendencies. By contrast, the Chinese style 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 exterior.
Another characteristic of traditional Chinese architecture is its use of a wooden structural frame with pillars, 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 idea that Chinese culture strives to communicate. This feature has been preserved up to the present.
Based on the structure of the wooden beams and pillars, traditional rectangular Chinese buildings are divided into several rooms. In order to cover the structure with a deep and over-hanging roof, the Chinese invented a special type of support bracket, called tou-kung, which both supports the structure and is an attractive ornamentation.
Three 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 sundry color murals found on a traditional Chinese building range from outlines of dragons and phoenixes to depictions of myths to paintings of landscapes, flowers, and birds. Clearly these color murals have both symbolic and aesthetic significance. One notable architectural development in southern China, particularly in Taiwan, is fine wood sculpture. Such sculptures coupled with murals give the structure an elegant and florid effect.
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