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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Building a Roof in China

Before going to China I would have called this structure a pagoda, but that would have been wrong.  A pagoda is a many tiered structure that has a ceremonial function.  This is a building with a traditional roof.  Chinese architecture has remained largely unchanged sine the Tang Dynasty.  The method of construction is static, with the decorative details being the thing that changes over time.

The significant feature of Chinese architecture is its emphasis on articualtion and bilateral symetry in the building, which is associated with the cultural importance of balance.  There is an ancient tradition of laying out the building that is related to auspicious symbols and feng shui.  Animals and fruits that symbolize good fortune and prosperity are often included in the building.  The number of animals on the roof corners is an indication of the grandeur of the building--the more animals the better. 
"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

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