Chinese Architecture

Chinese architecture is one of the major categories in the history of world architecture. For thousands of years, its unique feature of wooden construction system has become the essence of Chinese classical architecture culture, which has spread to east Asian culture areas such as Japan, South Korea and Vietnam.

Traditional Chinese Architecture


In the early days, rammed earth was the main load-bearing structure of Chinese architecture, supplemented by wooden frame. After the Tang dynasty, Chinese wooden construction stepped to mature, and the whole timber frame was popularized, with mortise and tenon connecting components. China’s wooden structure is characterized by strong regional features, and the new trends brought by the replacement of the dynasties interacted with folk techniques. The architectural features of the north and south are distinct. In the late Qing dynasty, the mainstream of Chinese architecture were replaced by western-style buildings.

  • Large Size/Space
    It is reflected in the gate, window, depth, eaves, which give a person with the feeling of relaxing. The semi-enclosed space formed under the large eaves is not only a shelter from the sun and rain, but also open to nature with wide view. It most fully embodies the thought of “the unity of heaven and man” in the Chinese traditional architecture.
  • Full of Vitality
    It is reflected in the four corners of the cornices, which are ready to fly or up to float, easing the sense of heaviness of construction (including tower, building) and vivifying the solidification. The artistry of traditional Chinese architecture is unmatched by any other nation. While that of the western traditional architecture is not in the building itself, but in the sculpture or painting that it attaches to — the art of viewing.
  • Sumptuous
    It is reflected in the use of coloured glaze. It has a long life, bright colors, dazzling in the sun, and magnificent in all kinds of environments. Its higher costs represents wealth and status.
  • Geomantic Concept
    In addition to the above features, the traditional Chinese architecture also has the fourth characteristic: the Concept of Geomancy. It is used to organize construction and layout from common residences to imperial and religious structures. Usually the buildings are nestled among hills and streams, reflecting Chinese traditional architectural designs, geomantic concept and the close relationship between man and nature. It not only emphasizes the natural mountain and forest geomancy, but also the artificial mountain and forest geomancy, to create a beautiful living environment and realize the return of nature3.

Types of Architecture:

The main types of Chinese architecture include palaces, temples, pagodas, residential houses and garden buildings. The achievements of palace and garden architecture are most prominent.

  • Palaces

    Due to the long history of feudal society, the emperors of all dynasties tended to build palaces in order to satisfy their luxurious life and maintain the majesty of their rule. After the Qin and Han dynasties, palaces always occupied an important position in ancient Chinese architecture. Unfortunately many palaces have become relics. The buildings and designs of the Forbidden City are the peak of Chinese traditional architecture, not only scientific but also suitable for living. Now, it is the largest, the most complete and the finest of the palaces that are well preserved. From the whole architectural art of the Forbidden City, it embodies the special style and outstanding achievement of ancient Chinese architectural art, and is one of the outstanding buildings in the world.

  • Garden Buildings

    There are many famous classical gardens in China, most of which are relics of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The private garden in south China is the most artistic type in Chinese classical garden, especially Suzhou gardens, whose space presents excellent wholeness, which is fully filled with wisdom and skills. Suzhou has the superior conditions of abundant materials, developed culture, green hills and clear waters. Successive royal bureaucrats kept building gardens in Suzhou to enjoy. Therefore, the quantity of existing Suzhou classical gardens are considerable. In addition, other places in northern have also kept some famous classical garden, such as the Summer Palace and Beihai Park in Beijing, and Chengde Summer Resort in Hebei.

  • Residential Houses

    China covers a large territory and has many nationalities, so the geographical and climatic conditions and people’s life style vary from place to place. Therefore, the style and form of buildings differ regionally. People of all ethnic groups often reflected their own desires, beliefs, and aesthetic idea in the house’s decoration, pattern or color, in the technique of realism or symbolism. The most representative dwelling in the North is Pingyao and Qi County. Pingyao Ancient City(Shanxi) is an outstanding example of ancient Chinese cities in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, known as “a pearl of northern residential architecture.” Qi county is most famous for Qiao’s Grand Courtyard. The residence of South Anhui is the representative of the southern, most famous for Xidi village and Hongcun Village.

  • Pagodas

    The pagoda is a traditional Chinese building. Buddhism was introduced into China in the first century AD, and formed Chinese Buddhism after localization. The number of floors in Chinese pagodas is usually singular, usually five to thirteen. On the high mountains and rivers in China’s urban and rural areas, there are numerous ancient towers. The existing famous ancient pagoda is: Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi ‘an, Yingxian Wooden Tower in Yingxian county of Shanxi, Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng, the brick tower of Kaiyuan temple in Hebei province, Pagoda of Six Harmonies in Hangzhou.

  • Temples

    Temple is the art treasure house of our country, which is the symbol of our country’s long history and culture. It is not only the refuge place of religious believers, but also the gathering place of historical culture. In ancient times, temples were regarded as the place where god lived. Believers bring offerings of food, spices, and rare articles to the temple as a homage and respect to the gods. In modern times, the temple became a place of worship, like a chapel and a church. The most famous one is Shaolin Temple, Baoguo Temple and Lingyan Temple.

Modern Chinese Architecture

China’s modern architecture refers to everything built since the Opium War in 1840. China’s architecture in this time is in the transitional period of blending with western countries and the replacing of the old . This is a period of rapid change in the development history of Chinese architecture.

The closed-door policy of Qing dynasty blocked the introduction of western architecture. After the Opium War, various forms of western architecture appeared on Chinese land, which accelerated the change of Chinese architecture. New building system including that introduced from the west and developed from China itself, has a modern new function, new technologies and new style, even the introduced western architecture, is saturated with Chinese characteristics in different degrees.

Type of Building

  • Residential Building

Single-family Residence: In 1900, there was exclusive residence with a single courtyard. These houses are basically copies of the popular western houses at that time, and generally in the superior locations of the city. Its architectural form and technical equipment mostly adopt western practices, while layout, decoration, garden greening, etc are preserved Chinese traditional characteristics.

Multi-family House: It includes lane housing, residential compound and high-rise apartments. Lane housing first built in Shanghai in the 1950s – 1960s which was introduced from Europe, and then appeared in the concession, wharf and business center of Hankou, Fuzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin, Qingdao and other places. The residential compound is quite common in Qingdao, Shenyang and Harbin, where a dozen or even dozens of families live together, with large density and low living standard. High-rise apartments are the result of dense population and high land prices in big cities, with a height of more than 10 floors.

  • Industrial Building

Timber Framed Factories: Chinese handicraft workshops always adopt wooden frame structure. In the early stage of China’s modern industry, many plants still use this traditional structure.

Masonry and Wood Structured Factories: It is the most common form of large and medium-sized plants in the second half of the 19th century that constructed with brick and wood structure. By the 20th century, some small and medium-sized factories were still built in this way.

Steel Structured and Reinforced Concrete Structured Factories: The steel structure factory began to appear in China in the 1860s and was widely used in industrial buildings such as machine factory and textile mill in the 1920s and 1930s. At the beginning of the 20th century, the reinforced concrete structure was first adopted for single-floor textile factories. In the 1920s and 1930s, the reinforced concrete frame structures within five floors were more common.

  • Public Building

In modern times, various types of public buildings appeared in China in the second half of the 19th century, and the types were quite complete by the 1930s. Administrative and hall buildings built before 1920s basically follows the similar architecture of capitalist countries. Since the late 1920s, Chinese architects have designed the national buildings with modern functions. Most financial buildings adopt classic style and eclectic style, and there are a few taking national styles. The exterior of the railway station mostly were the style of foreign architecture. The old type of commercial service buildings usually took the traditional architectural style, and the new materials and new structures are used for local reconstruction to expand the space to accommodate more customers and display more commodities, and to enhance the advertising effect. The new commercial service building is the largest, the most modern and the most prominent in art in modern China. Many of these buildings are multi-storey, high-rise or large space, large span and high-standard.