Chinese architecture Styles

September 2, 2013
Both Tibetan and Chinese

Chinese architecture refers to a style of architecture that has taken shape in East Asia over many 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, Vietnam, and Japan.

The architecture of China is as old as Chinese civilization. From every source of information—literary, graphic, exemplary—there is strong evidence testifying to the fact that the Chinese have always enjoyed an indigenous system of construction that has retained its principal characteristics from prehistoric times to the present day. Over the vast area from Chinese Turkistan to Japan, from Manchuria to the northern half of French Indochina, the same system of construction is prevalent; and this was the area of Chinese cultural influence. That this system of construction could perpetuate itself for more than four thousand years over such a vast territory and still remain a living architecture, retaining its principal characteristics in spite of repeated foreign invasions—military, intellectual, and spiritual—is a phenomenon comparable only to the continuity of the civilization of which it is an integral part.

— Liang, Ssu-ch'eng, 1984

Throughout the 20th Century, Western-trained Chinese architects have attempted to combine traditional Chinese designs into modern architecture (usually government), with only limited success. Moreover, the pressure for urban development throughout contemporary China required higher speed of construction and higher floor area ratio, which means that in the great cities the demand for traditional Chinese buildings, which are normally less than 3 levels, has declined in favor of modern architecture. However, the traditional skills of Chinese architecture, including major and minor carpentry, masonry, and stonemasonry, are still applied to the construction of vernacular architecture in the vast rural area in China.


A sancai (tri-colored) ceramic mansion from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), excavated from a Tang era tomb at Zhongbu village in the western suburbs of Xi'an.
The rectangular compound shown above has two sections of courtyards. The buildings on the axle line include central entrance, four-pointed pavilion, mountain-shaped front hall, artificial mountain and ponds, eight-pointed pavilion and mountain-shaped retiring quarters. The two sides of the central axle are arranged with corridor rooms symmetrically.

Architectural bilateral symmetry[edit]

An important feature in Chinese architecture is its emphasis on articulation and bilateral symmetry, which signifies balance. Bilateral symmetry and the articulation of buildings are found everywhere in Chinese architecture, from palace complexes to humble farmhouses. When possible, plans for renovation and extension of a house will often try to maintain this symmetry provided that there is enough capital to do so. Secondary elements are positioned either side of main structures as two wings to maintain overall bilateral symmetry. The buildings are typically planned to contain an even number of columns in a structure to produce an odd number of bays (間). With the inclusion of a main door to a building in the center bay, symmetry is maintained.

In contrast to the buildings, Chinese gardens are a notable exception which tend to be asymmetrical. The principle underlying the garden's composition is to create enduring flow.


Contemporary Western architectural practices typically involve surrounding a building by an open yard on the property. This contrasts with much of traditional Chinese architecture, which involves constructing buildings or building complexes that take up an entire property but enclose open spaces within itself. These enclosed spaces come in two forms, the:

  • Courtyard (院): The use of open courtyards is a common feature in many types of Chinese architectures. This is best exemplified in the Siheyuan, which consists of an empty space surrounded by buildings connected with one another either directly or through verandas.
  • "Sky well" (天井): Although large open courtyards are less commonly found in southern Chinese architecture, the concept of an "open space" surrounded by buildings, which is seen in northern courtyard complexes, can be seen in the southern building structure known as the "sky well". This structure is essentially a relatively enclosed courtyard formed from the intersections of closely spaced buildings and offer small opening to the sky through the roof space from the floor up.
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