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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Traditional Construction, Yunnan Province, China

When one of my friends who is from China asked me about my recent trip to his country, I talked about how much I enjoyed watching the building of traditional Chinese buildings, especially in contrast with the ubiquitous cranes on every major city's sky line in China and his response was that it is for the tourists.  I would agree with that, but suspect that was one of the goals that UNESCO had in naming World Heritage sites in China.  They were trying to incentivize preservation in a country where change is happening at an almost unbelievable rate.
Ancient Chinese architecture has numerous similar elements in part, because of the early Chinese method of standardizing and prescribing uniform features of structures. The standards are recorded in bureaucratic manuals and drawings that were passed down through generations and dynasties. These account for the similar architectural features persisting over thousands of years, starting with the earliest evidence of Chinese imperial urbanism, now available through excavations starting in the early 1980s.

A fundamental achievement of Chinese wooden architecture is the load-bearing timber frame, a network of interlocking wooden supports forming the skeleton of the building. This is considered China's major contribution to worldwide architectural technology. However, it is not known how the builders got the huge wooden support columns into position.

Unlike western architecture, in ancient Chinese wooden architecture, the wall only defined an enclosure, and did not form a load-bearing element. Buildings in China have been supported by wooden frames for as long as seven millennia. The emergence of the characteristic articulated wooden Chinese frame emerged going back to the Neolithic Age. As long ago as seven thousand years mortise and tendon joinery was used to build wood-framed houses, and persists in Lijiang's old city today.

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