Investigation on the influence of Chinese traditional elements in contemporary building design by Western architects in China

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2010

127 Pages





List of figures

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Cultural Context
2.1 Overview
2.2 Basic feature of Chinese architecture
2.3 Chinese architecture before 1980s
2.4 New approach of Chinese architecture since 1980s

Chapter 3: The reasons for using Chinese traditions in their projects
3.1 Linking theme of Chinese architecture
3.1.1 Overview
3.1.2 Tradition in Chinese architecture Religious buildings The Chinese house Private gardens Funeral and ceremonial buildings
3.1.3 Characteristics of Chinese architecture The organization of space The courtyard The pagoda
3.2 Theories from the west
3.2.1 Overview
3.2.2 View of Eisenman
3.2.3 View of regionalism and critical regionalism Regionalism The development of these theories Influence of theories from Chinese scholars

Chapter 4: Case studies
4.1 Application of traditional elements by western architects
4.2 The Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai
4.2.1 Form
4.2.2 Function
4.2.3 Plan
4.2.4 Space
4.2.5 Structure and material
4.2.6 The meaning of the building
4.3 Fragrant Hill Hotel, Beijing
4.3.1 Form
4.3.2 Function
4.3.3 Plan
4.3.4 Space
4.3.5 Structure and material
4.3.6 The meaning of the building
4.4 Shanghai Grand Theater, Shanghai
4.4.1 Form
4.4.2 Function
4.4.3 Plan
4.4.4 Space
4.4.5 Structure and material
4.4.6 The meaning of the building
4.5 Shanghai Centre, Shanghai
4.5.1 Form
4.5.2 Function
4.5.3 Plan
4.5.4 Space
4.5.5 Structure and material
4.5.6 The meaning of the building
4.6 Bank of China’s new headquarters, Beijing
4.6.1 Form
4.6.2 Function
4.6.3 Plan
4.6.4 Space
4.6.5 Structure and material
4.6.6 The meaning of the building
4.7 Discussion
4.7.1 Form
4.7.2 Function
4.7.3 Plan
4.7.4 Space
4.7.5 Structure and material
4.7.6 The meaning of these buildings
4.7.7 The meaning for Chinese architects

Chapter 5: The effort by Chinese architects

Chapter 6: Conclusions



I hereby state this thesis is my own work, and, to the best of my knowledge, it does not contain materials previously published or written by other people, nor has its content ever been substantially accepted in exchange for academic grade or university degrees from AIU or other post-secondary institutions, except properly acknowledged within the document.

Title of Thesis:

Investigation on the influence of Chinese traditional elements in contemporary building design by Western architects in China.


Name: Razak Bin Basri

Course: Doctor of Architecture (PhD)

Atlantic International University (AIU)


The author wishes to express his appreciation and acknowledgement of the help and courtesies afforded to him by the AIU academic advisor who regularly lends his advice, guidance and his invaluable opinions. The appreciation also goes to his staff that consistently assists him in finding research materials and finally to his beloved wife, Masslaily Marzuki for her sacrifices, encouragement, assistance and continuous support for this program.


China is transforming in terms of economy, social, culture and physical development. Due to this, rapid urban development in China threatens the urban fabric of Chinese cities. Development has attempted to balance strong Western influences with traditional Chinese forms and has met mixed results. Although, it is already in existence of a new current of Chinese regionalism in architecture but this trend could be further improved by careful applications of the principles of architecture. This thesis presents five case studies of current Chinese completed building projects in two major urban settings; Beijing and Shanghai, designed by Western architects.

Each case study is examined in each of the basic elements of architecture in relation to traditions and modern architecture. These case studies are then used as the foundation for specific recommendations for future development of contemporary Chinese architectural regionalism, in particular focusing on ways to integrate traditional or vernacular techniques, devices and forms with modern needs, modern technologies, and foreign influences in order to enhance the regional culture and built environment. There is distinction made between Beijing and Shanghai in which Beijing is more of a historic city emphasizing Chinese government, while Shanghai is more of an economic nerve of China emphasizing trade, finance and international business. Together, the two cities form the forefront of the built environment showcase of China.

List of figures

Fig.1 The map of China. (

Fig.2 The bustling and sprawling metropolitan Shanghai which is also the financial capital of China. (

Fig.3 Tiananmen Square is the largest downtown square in the world. It covers an area of 44 hectares, big enough to hold one million people. Here is the most sacred place for Chinese people. Beijing is the heart of China, and Tiananmen Square is the heart of Beijing. (

Fig.4 State buildings in Beijing, The capital city of China.


Fig.5 Shanghai matches any other western cities. (

Fig.6 Drawing shows typical traditional Chinese building construction. (Pile, John. 2005. A History of Interior Design. Laurence King Publishing Ltd. London).

Fig.7 This illustration from violet-le-Duc shows a restored view of the main room. (Pile, John. 2005. A history of Interior Design. Laurence King Publishing Ltd. London).

Fig.8 Drawing shows the Plan of the Bo Lin Temple, Beijing, China, c 1400. This plan of the Bo Lin Temple shows its typically arranged halls along a central axis. (Pile, John. 2005. A history of Interior Design. Laurence King Publishing Ltd. London).

Fig.9 Temple of Heaven. (

Fig.10 Typical plan of Chinese house. (

Fig.11 Chinese houses. (

Fig.12 Bird’s eye view of typical garden.(

Fig.13 The glance of the garden. (

Fig.14 Funeral building. (Liu, Yu. Chinese traditional architecture. Beijing: Dadi Press House, 1993).

Fig.15 Tomb figure in funeral building. (Liu, Yu. Chinese traditional architecture. Beijing: Dadi Press House, 1993).

Fig.16 The plan of the “jian”. (Laurence, G. Liu. 1989. Chinese Architecture. Academy Editions).

Fig.17 “Jian” divided by column. (Laurence, G. Liu. 1989. Chinese Architecture. Academy Editions).

Fig.18 Courtyard 1. (Blaser, Werner. Courtyard house in China: tradition and present . Boston: Birkhäuser, 1979).

Fig.19 Courtyard 2. (Blaser, Werner. Courtyard house in China: tradition and present . Boston: Birkhäuser, 1979).

Fig.20 Perspective of the courtyard. (Blaser, Werner. Courtyard house in China: tradition and present . Boston: Birkhäuser, 1979).

Fig.21 Various types of pagodas. (

Fig.22 General Form of Jin Mao Tower. (

Fig.23 Fine detailing of steel and glass facades. (

Fig.24 Momentum of design for Jin Mao shaft is the pagoda, which creates an appearance of lightness and its skyward pose. (

Fig.25 Modern but rich in traditions. (

Fig.26 Details at the top part of Jin Mao Tower. (

Fig.27 Upward looking of Jin Mao interior. (

Fig.28 The Interior of the Jin Mao Tower. (

Fig.29 Breathtaking downward image of the interior. (

Fig.30 Seen on the surface of the water. (

Fig.31 View from the hill- (

Fig.32 Reception area of the hotel. (

Fig.33 Chinese garden within the hotel. (

Fig.34 Wall motifs with Chinese Geometry in atrium. (

Fig.35 The surrounding landscapes of the hotel. (

Fig.36 Set in the lush green environment. (

Fig.37 Pei refused to fragrant hill hotel near the Forbidden City. Forbidden City was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties which is the largest palace complex in the world. It surrounded by 10-meter high walls and a 52-meter wide moat. It covers 74 hectares and has 9,999 rooms. In the Forbidden City, there is abundance of knowledge about the Chinese traditional architecture, splendid painted and beautiful craftwork. (

Fig.38 Majestic theatre building at night. (,+Shanghai&hl).

Fig.39 The imposing building of Shanghai Grand Theatre. (,+Shanghai&hl).

Fig.40 Plans of Shanghai Grand Theatre. (,+Shanghai&hl).

Fig.41 Foyer of the Shanghai Grand Theatre. (,+Shanghai&hl).

Fig.42 Traditional elements incorporated in modern design create a welcoming space.


Fig.43 The grand theatre. (,+Shanghai&hl)

Fig.44 Impressive building of Shanghai centre with three towers connected to each other. (,+Shanghai.&hl=en&gbv=2).

Fig.45 Entrance area of the building with public pedestrian mall. (,+Shanghai.&hl=en&gbv=2).

Fig.46 Public drop off and pick up. area.(,+Shanghai.&hl=en&gbv=2).

Fig.47 Modern interior of the hotel. (,+Shanghai.&hl=en&gbv=2).

Fig.48 External appearance of the Bank of China. (,+Shanghai.&hl=en&gbv=2).

Fig.49 Atrium of the Bank of China new headquarters. (

Fig.50 The main lobby of the Bank of China. (

Fig.51 Bird’s eye view of the atrium. (

Fig.52 The symbol of geometry incorporated in the design. (

Fig.53 The new library of Tsinghua University. (

Fig.54 Fongzeyuan Hotel and Restaurant influenced by I.M. Pei’s design, the American architect. (

Fig.55 The innovative design of Guangzhou Museum. (

Chapter 1: Introduction


In tandem with the fast growing and booming Chinese economy, the field of built environment in China is also developing rapidly. The application of traditional architecture is widened under this trend, and increasingly, this style is incorporated in modern design. At the same time, there are some outstanding examples of good contemporary design by Western architects working in and out of China. This thesis will investigate how Western architects are expressing the link between Chinese traditional architecture and modern architecture through architectural features and concepts in the form of function, form, plan, space, structure and materials. In some instances, this thesis will explore the possibilities for these designs to project deeper meaning which is beyond the function of the buildings.

This thesis analyzes approaches practiced in China by Western architects in identifying and defining particular style for traditional Chinese architectural elements in modern design. It is seen as an acceptable style, norm and values for the development of contemporary architecture in China. Therefore, it is very important to understand the evolution of Chinese architectural development and its process.

Hypothesis and research questions

It is hypothesized that projects undertaken recently by Western architects in China can be used to define a route for contemporary domestic Chinese architecture in the future.

The thesis focuses on the following key questions, to test the hypothesis.

1> For what reasons do Western architects pay attention to Chinese traditional elements in their projects in China?
2> Projects of Western architects working in China are influenced by traditional Chinese architecture. How are the traditional elements embodied in these projects?
3> How are Chinese architects inspired by these projects to develop contemporary Chinese architecture?

Chapter 1 gives an overview about the thesis. Clearly, architecture in certain regions in China represents cultural context of some aspects, such as architectural style, economy, culture and history. The thesis will focus on Chinese traditional architecture and to what extent it is practiced by western architects in their designs in China. The research will also consider the importance of local language of architecture which can also affect the development of regional architecture in certain regions.

In chapter 2, this thesis discusses cultural context through the development of Chinese architecture during the 20th century. Chinese architecture has retained the status of unique features and characteristics for thousands of years, which formed its own architectural style in terms of histories and theories that are different from any other part of the world. In the middle of the 19th century, China was forced to open its door to the outside world. As a result, the country experienced the influx of foreign ideas especially the impact from the Western architectural thought. The open door policy brought more and more architectural designs and concepts which were introduced in China under the influence of Western style. The influence from the West became significant and their presence was increasingly noticed in major urban areas in China. Until the end of last century, a large number of projects by Western architects have taken place in China. It was different from early time; there were various influences from Chinese elements in these construction projects. As a result, it could now be acknowledged that modern architecture from Western architects was incorporated with the Chinese traditional elements in those projects.

Chapter 3 analyzes the reasons with regards to the influence of Chinese architecture. It could be influenced by the regional thought and the rationality of Chinese traditional architecture. In whatever situation, this influence is real and has rationale and valid reasons. There are various thoughts of design from different foreign architects and there are reasons as to why Chinese traditional architecture has been incorporated in modern development of architecture.

Chapter 4 focuses on five case studies selected from various projects undertaken by Western architects. The chapter attempts to analyze some projects from several aspects of architectural elements such as form, function, plan, space, structure and material. This chapter also investigates to what extent the projects undertaken by Western architects in China has succeeded based on the influence of Chinese architecture in their projects. Understanding the elements of Chinese architecture together with its history and theory will equip the Western architects with vast knowledge in designing buildings in China. The thesis explores how Chinese traditional theory is relevant with modern design of contemporary Chinese architecture. It also explains that regional elements can also be applied in the modern style architecture and in doing so, will be able to adapt with local environment in order to strengthen regional culture. It can also be seen from these scenarios how they gradually become an important symbol for regional culture. It will also illustrate the importance of Chinese traditional architecture as well. There are some rational contributions for this new attempt in development of Chinese architecture. The result from these projects can prompt the local architects to study and to inspire them in their new attempt. It is hoped that from this lesson, the present Chinese architects can learn how to integrate the creativity of Western architects together with the traditional elements of Chinese architecture.

Chapter 5 discusses the role and importance of Chinese traditional architecture with regards to modern architecture initiated by Chinese architectural practices. It is likely this influence will have a positive effect from Western architects’ undertaking projects in China. The fact is that, due to this influence, Chinese architects can produce better end result due to their special status and familiarity with local culture and environment. Obviously the emphasis on contemporary Chinese architecture will be the utmost goal with regards to the Chinese architects’ effort to incorporate traditional elements in their projects.

Chapter 6 concludes whether there is a thesis of what has been discussed and presented in the earlier chapters. The conclusion provides answers to the earlier questions and recommends what are the appropriate solutions to the problems.

Chapter 2: Cultural Context

2.1 Overview

Architecture in certain regions represent cultural context in many aspects, such as architectural style, economy, culture and history. This thesis concentrates on Chinese traditional architecture which is practiced by western architects in their designs in China. It explains that the local environment of architecture can also affect the development of architecture in certain regions. Related culture context can help readers to clearly understand the relationship between Chinese architecture and modernism.

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Fig. 1 The map of China. (

China is a large market for the entire world, especially with a rapid development in the field of architecture in recent years. "China is like a fresh source of vitality," (Meinhard von Gerkan, quoted by Gluckman, 2001). Therefore, the opportunity to participate in major development projects is seen as a way of presenting new ideas and creativity in architectural projects by the foreign architects especially the Western architects. Since the 1980s, the projects of Western architects commissioned in this ancient country have managed to create a dialogue between tradition and modernism, and these have complemented each other via identity of architecture. However, this was ignored in the beginning of 20th century when China was in the period of semi-colonized feudal society (Li, 2000).

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Fig.2 The bustling and sprawling metropolitan Shanghai which is also the financial capital of China. (

There were a few buildings designed by foreign architects in a limited number of cities, such as Shanghai (Bracken, 2006). At that time, most projects were entirely embodied by classical style, such as the HSBC in Shanghai and CIQ building. They are both designed by Western architects. Chinese tradition was totally ignored by Western theory in semi-colonized feudal society. Western architectural theory and history was extensively used to design these buildings.

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Fig. 3 Tiananmen Square is the largest downtown square in the world. It covers an area of 44 hectares, big enough to hold one million people. Here is the most sacred place for Chinese people. Beijing is the heart of China, and Tiananmen Square is the heart of Beijing. (

Chinese architecture has been Westernized since the end of the First Opium War in the mid 19th century, but these days Chinese people have started to remember their traditions and try to win back their own architecture. The complex interweaving of the contradictions of new and old, Chinese and Western, constitute the special feature of contemporary Chinese architecture.

China has entered an era of rapid industrialization. The changes in Shanghai’s Pudong district over the last decade have shown just how quickly and how significantly the urban fabric and character can be shaped and altered in a short time.

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Fig. 4 State buildings in Beijing, the capital city of China.


Cities like Beijing are striving to preserve a highly traditional urban environment. In cities like Beijing, deference to traditional culture has to be central; this deference is the starting point for designs like the Yanhuang Art Museum, and attempts to utilize newer technologies, such as construction technologies or the technologies necessary in modern art museums, within the framework of deference for tradition. Other very traditional cities like Zhengzhou and Suzhou have also had new development that being to express important aspects of a positive Chinese regionalism. For example, in Zhengzhou, the Henan Museum uses strategies similar to those of the Yanhuang Art Museum and incorporates modern technologies to serve its function as a museum. In Suzhou, a famous historical city in the south of China, the Tongfang residential quarter, a housing development in the old city, provides another example similar to the Ju’er Hutong neighborhood. Its plan concept is inspired by the traditional street pattern of “lane-nong-zhinong” from south China. The inner areas of this residential quarter are dwelling areas while the outer skirts consist of offices, shopping and services. It forms a contemporary living environment based around quiet, traditional “lane spaces.” The houses in the district are all within three stories in height; with white walls and grey tiles, they reflect the architectural characteristics of traditional Suzhou garden design.

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Fig. 5 Shanghai matches any other western cities. (

By contrast to Beijing, in Shanghai, there is a much greater mingling of traditional Chinese influences with foreign influences, and a building like the Jin Mao tower, a skyscraper among skyscrapers, matches its environment in the very modern Pudong district but also utilizes a formal metaphor that can be associated with traditional Chinese agrarian culture. In other coastal cities of southern China, like Guangzhou and Xiamen, rapid economic development has led to a greater assimilation of alien influences. Compared to the regions with traditional urban contexts, these coastal regions take a more open attitude to accept alien cultures while remodeling vernacular. The Museum of Nanyue King’s Tomb, located in Guangzhou, is an example of the synthesis of historical reference and modern technology. This museum uses a metaphoric strategy to link the formal design with an ancient culture. For instance, the inverse of a pyramid-shaped glass cover of this museum design evokes the tomb’s image of kings in the Xihan dynasty. In this example, the architect uses modern architectural language and contemporary materials and technologies to reinterpret vernacular culture. Another example is the Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport. The linear design, with a traditional roof-like structural form, recalls a traditional Chinese profile through the application of modern technologies. The open and unique roof form reinterprets the traditional structural supporting system of wood brackets and provides shade and natural light for the terminal interior as a response to the specific ocean climate. In this example, the architect attempts to localize modern technologies through a linkage with tradition.

2.2 Basic feature of Chinese architecture.

The basic feature of Chinese architecture is rectangular-shaped units of space joined together into a whole. Temples in ancient Greece also employed rectangular spaces, but the overall effect tended to austerity. The Chinese style, by contrast, 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 and intriguing exterior.

The combination of units of space in traditional Chinese architecture abides by the principles of balance and symmetry. The main structure is the axis, and the secondary structures are positioned as two wings on either side to form the main rooms and yard. Residences, official buildings, temples, and palaces all follow these same basic principles. The distribution of interior space reflects Chinese social and ethical values. In traditional residential buildings, for example, members of a family are assigned living quarters based on the family hierarchy. The master of the house occupies the main room, the elder members of the master's family live in the compound in back, and the younger members of the family live in the wings to the left and right; those with seniority on the left, and the others on the right.

Another characteristic of Chinese architecture is its use of a wooden structural frame with pillars and 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 thing Chinese culture in its various forms endeavors to communicate. This feature has been preserved up to the present.

Traditional rectangular Chinese buildings are divided into several rooms, based on the structure of the wooden beams and pillars. In order to top the structure with a deep and over hanging roof, the Chinese invented their particular type of support brackets, called tou-kung, which rises up level by level from each pillar. These brackets both support the structure and are also a distinctive and attractive ornamentation. This architectural style was later adopted by such countries as Korea and Japan.

Some 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.

2.3 Chinese architecture before 1980s

From 1840 to 1949, China was in chaos - a situation caused by various warlords and foreign political interference. The development of architectural theories and practices was also in a downturn because of the lack of economical and political will. Architects from the West introduced as much Western architectural style in order to leave permanent imprint as colonials in China. They succeed to create an architectural identity totally different from Chinese local architecture in a few cities such as Shanghai and Tsingtao.

When new China was established in the 1950s, modern ideas from the West had been restricted, which provided a striking cue for a relatively new situation (Li, 2000). This situation was different from a semi-colonized setting. Since the 1950s, Russian modernism gave a new precedent for China (Zhu, 2005). As specified in Chinese design element, roofs were characterized in architecture that focused on large civic projects, which may represent a strong connotation of imperial nationalism. Chinese roofs connect on the abstract modern body, which directly create a regional feature. Design ideas, at that time, were limited and bounded by Chinese roofs. Architecture with Chinese elements then, began its first experiment by locally trained Chinese architects. These buildings designed by them had attempted to express a sense of majesty and power. They were wrapped in limestone and severely symmetrical with massive ground floors, tremendous space and rows of columns (Li, 2000).

Ten Grand Projects in Beijing were the representation that embodied Chinese architectural elements in modern buildings at the end of the 1950s. At the same time, function and economy were central in the process of design of the building in order to create a style of high simplicity. Modernism, perhaps surprisingly, was also contained in this style (Li, 2000).

2.4 New view of Chinese architecture since 1980s

After suffering a period of dullness and darkness between the end of the1960s and end of the 1970s, Chinese architectural development came into a new era. Architects and academic professors both started to become really concerned with the conjunction of theory and pedagogy. The mixture of regionalism and pragmatism were studied with the homegrown Chinese method. With the development of an educational model, the faculty and curriculum of the School of Architecture at Tsinghua University in Beijing reflected an unusual conjunction of theory and pedagogy that used the European educational model. They continued with the absence of structured curriculum in architectural school. Firstly, the knowledge of Chinese architecture was studied to use appropriate method in the educational process. Historic precedent became a vital part of education (Li, 2000). Secondly, students were required to study systemic draftsmanship, in an attempt to gain visualization and drawing skills. Finally, the methodology was meant to reinforce mental discipline, to teach the student to graduate level.

The system of architectural education in China is not well-organized. It simply emphasizes the architecture in the narrow sense. Unlike the architectural education in western country which has deep foundation of theory and culture, Chinese architectural education just focuses on the technical training. How to organize the space, what sorts of material should be used, how is the ventilation in the building are the usual topics. In terms of the relation between architecture and sociality or economics, the education rarely talks about.

It is all because of the rapidly growing consumption of buildings which need to be designed and constructed in relatively short period. The defective of education leads to the defective of architecture. A lot of copy buildings are generated because of the lack of architectural sense and time. Influenced by the post-modernism, deconstructionism in Western countries, a trend of avant-garde design enhances. The character of this design is simulation of the appearance of Western architecture without thinking the meaning of the building.

Whereas, in Europe, the modern system is evolved from Bauhaus system formed in 1920s. Its purpose is to adapt the produce of industry and the demand of people’s life. This system encourages student to confront the modern world objectively, and focuses on practical activity in design process. Bauhaus emphasizes the importance of cognizance. Student should be aware of what time they are in. Consequently, they can represent their view of this time in their produces. At one time, the practical operation and theory of design are integrated in education, which can train both mental discipline and handwork discipline and improve ability of design (Whitford, F, 1984).

To aggravate the situation, there was still a gap when the modern system was introduced in China. The modern systems in the beginning of development created a disordered situation that the design process lacked of any theoretical and procedural support (Li, 2000). Design became a rigid exercise without effective theoretical and procedural support, facing confrontation between tradition and modernity was a different transition. Until the 1980s, the academic field still did not form rational and active educational system.

With the increasing projects of Western architects, there is a particular situation that Western architects attempt to apply Chinese traditions in their projects. Fortunately, they have managed to combine the application of modern Western architecture and Chinese traditions. They can study some positive parts from these designs of Western architects. It is becoming a novelty to deal with the relationship between modern architecture and traditional architecture for Chinese contemporary architecture. These modernism experiences are introduced into China and influence local architects, which have caused a new complex situation.

Chapter 3: The reasons for using Chinese traditions in their projects

Why do Western architects pay attention to traditional Chinese elements in their projects in China? Of course, there are reasons as to what make Chinese traditions more important in Western architects’ projects. In fact, it is a complex issue to analyze how this trend is initiated. This chapter attempts to analyze the manner in which architects have apparently drawn on Chinese traditions in their Chinese designs. Chinese architecture and the modern thoughts from Western architects are both necessary and should be considered in this moment of change. Clearly, this affects the Western architects in their approach to incorporate Chinese tradition into architecture in China. Therefore, this chapter aims to describe and analyze the Chinese architecture and some related thoughts from the West separately. It is helpful for readers to understand this trend in terms of how this is seen or perceived from Chinese perspective or foreigners’ point of view.

Firstly, Chinese traditional architecture contains rich elements from its own built environment to the detail of the building. The Chinese consider nature when they live in their buildings, and there are various subtle considerations to integrate the environment within architecture (Laurence, 1989). The continuity of Chinese architecture that maintained thousands of years reflects wonderful thought of architecture and philosophy. They are rational and subtle arts from dealing with space to harmonizing with the environment.

Then, there are also many effects of Western theories of architecture, which promote the development of Western architecture and form of architectural mainstream (Taschen, 1995). Their role is vital for the whole architectural world. Before studying the real cases, there are thoughts of Critical architecture and Regionalism to be considered in order to discuss the theories that may have affected contemporary architecture. Western theories accept the fact that Chinese regional architecture is necessary in many aspects. Modern architecture in different regions needs to adapt to local culture and its environment. Some prominent architects who have had projects in China are mentioned, credited and analyzed with regards to their thoughts and concepts based on their completed projects. Therefore, with the different location of their projects, design can vary due to the historical and cultural identity of a particular place. This, in turn will affect the finished product. The melting styles between modernism and Chinese tradition can be expressed by these interesting cases, which identify the importance of Chinese architecture in these projects commissioned by Western architects.

Thus, the reasons of this trend are complex, some of which can be investigated in this thesis. There is a meaningful philosophy which can be found from Chinese traditional architecture. It is useful when architects consider the basic in their design. Moreover, the Western thoughts prompt this excellent form that had been initiated in modern architecture. The following description makes the reasons clearer for the readers. There are two aspects posed from Chinese architecture and western related thoughts; continuity and creativity.

3.1 The linking theme of Chinese architecture.

3.1.1 Overview

Due to the Chinese worship of nature, the environment is organized to be attuned with architecture as a holistic identity. It achieves a harmony between people and building. This humanistic philosophy and design of Chinese architecture and environmental disposal can be an inspiration to contemporary architectural practice (Laurence, 1989). Particularly, it is also a resource for the creation of a new architecture. Liu believes that “the study of classical Chinese architecture at this critical time will be both beneficial for Chinese and Western architecture for the creation of a humane architecture and environment” (Laurence, 1989).

As mentioned earlier, temples, palaces and houses all, shared a basic system of construction using wooden columns supporting beams with bracketed connections, often richly carved. Sloping roofs covered with tiles were universally used and buildings were most often one story in height. The interiors of Chinese typical buildings reveal the structural elements, fully exposed, while the need to paint wooden elements to aid lasting qualities gave rise to rich and colorful painting. Interior walls became merely partitions, fitted between structural columns. Outside walls of houses were of masonry, but were not used for structural support. Typically, a single door led through ante-rooms to a central courtyard with surrounding open porches and verandahs. Symmetry of plan layout was carefully observed while orientation was influenced by the concepts of feng shui that gave mystical significance to all aspects of planning (Pile, 2005).

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Fig. 6 The drawing shows typical traditional Chinese building construction.

(Pile, John. 2005. A History of Interior Design. Laurence King Publishing Ltd. London).

Externally, the tiled, sloping roof would have a curved profile, and would be supported by a system of horizontal beams with vertical posts resting on them, in upward steps that relate to the angle of the roof. A typical interior view, shown here, makes apparent this horizontal and vertical support system, so different from the Western gabbled roof.

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Fig. 7 The illustration from violet-le-Duc shows a restored view of the main room.

(Pile, John. 2005. A History of Interior Design. Laurence King Publishing Ltd. London).

The main room is very large, traditionally constructed, Chinese house, using the Chinese-style structural technique. The plan showing the layout of a Chinese city house, before 1750 and this plan is of a typical traditional Chinese city house, symmetrical about a central passage. Gardens open to the sky are placed between front and rear rooms. Stairways indicate an upper floor.

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Fig. 8 Drawing shows the Plan of the Bo Lin Temple, Beijing, China, c 1400. This plan of the Bo Lin Temple shows its typically arranged halls along a central axis.

(Pile, John. 2005. A History of Interior Design. Laurence King Publishing Ltd. London).

1. Chief Entrance
2. First gate
3. Drum tower
4. Bell tower
5. Second gate
6. Chapel
7. Stele
8. First prayer room
9. Second prayer hall
10. Monks’ cells
11. Side gate

3.1.2 Tradition in Chinese architecture

China has a huge territory, a long history, and many various cultures. Many elements including geographical, historical, and cultural landscapes have influenced Chinese traditional architecture locally in which it is grown. They are expressed in quite distinctive regions, localities, and cities (Knapp, 2003). Traditional architecture in China includes ‘official’ building forms, such as palaces, government buildings, ritual buildings, major religious buildings, and vernacular buildings. In comparison to the architecture with the rest of the world, there are many different features in Chinese architecture, which are expressed in the design concept, construction method, space, and meaning of architecture (Laurence, 1989). Before discussing the particular advantage for modern architecture, some characteristics and meaning of Chinese architecture should be described to give readers a glimpse of general information. It can be divided into various types of building, including religious buildings, houses, private gardens, funeral and ceremonial buildings, and palaces of emperors. Religious buildings

Religious buildings are created to reflect and serve the needs of religious beliefs that are popular among the common people in ancient time. Their styles contained more philosophic elements and various forms due to the special function. Consequently, there are various architectural types, including the pagoda, Buddhist grottoes, and temples (CriEnglish, 2007).

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Fig.9 Temple of Heaven

( The Chinese house

The Chinese house is dominated by the courtyard houses of the Han nation, representing the particular feature in dealing with the space and their ethical thought. However, the courtyard house is not only used in one part or certain regions of China but it is a typical form used by most areas from North to South.

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Fig.10 Typical plan of Chinese house. (

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Fig.11 Chinese houses. ( Private gardens

Private gardens illustrate the sense that integrates the person and nature. It is a unique method of design, which expresses Chinese philosophy and showed the ability of dealing with floating space. In a Chinese garden, the building is not only surrounded by green plants, but it also links the space (Laurence, 1989). At same time, verandahs link different buildings, lie across the whole environment to create different views for user (Banister, 1987).

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Fig.12 Bird’s eye view of typical garden.


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Fig.13 The glance of the garden.

( Funeral and ceremonial buildings

Funeral and ceremonial buildings express the worship that believes both man and nature. Palaces of emperor, as the expression of power, are contained by large buildings in wide scale. They also keep the basic principle that buildings and their environment are integrated for creating suited sense (Wang, 2005).

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Fig.14 Funeral building. (Liu, Yu. Chinese traditional architecture. Beijing: Dadi Press House, 1993).

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Fig.15 Tomb figures in funeral building.

(Liu, Yu. Chinese traditional architecture. Beijing: Dadi Press House, 1993).

Though, various types of architecture have appeared through the development of Chinese architecture, there are some basic theories that are related with space and layout of buildings, which support these particular architectural forms. In some senses, these principles, as essential design methods, have factual meaning not for those periods but for present days.

While it is not possible to describe all forms of Chinese architecture, this part provides a feature for understanding its particular characteristics in dealing with space and detail of design. This will emphasize certain and related building types and forms as well as the factors affecting the modern Chinese architecture.

3.1.3 Characteristics of Chinese architecture

This section presents and discusses several meaningful characteristics of Chinese architecture in order to analyze and discuss the significant effects for the usage of modern design. Chinese architecture is focused to satisfy personal use and feeling of human combined with nature (Zhguangye, 2006). The organization of space

Laozi, as a famous Chinese philosopher in ancient time, has summarized the importance of dealing with space. As he said “Surgery thought households cutting room when not have room to use”. It means a basic theory that architecture just was created by space served for human. Even this rational perspective is positive affection in a process of modern design. Therefore, Chinese architecture prefers to create the space not the certain function. The organization of space is considered by both, the daily needs and aesthetic demanded by the user. Chinese architecture concerns to divide the space for demand of function. There are standardized units in spatial design in interior and exterior. “Jian” is the basic plane modulus in all types of individual buildings. The partition of “jian” makes sure the plane of building that is not divided by function. It is “jian” which can be used in individual buildings or groups of buildings. “Jian” is a rectangular space formed by wall or columns. The users can use it by free layout. The modern architects may be surprised to study that “jian” were used in China for many intentions. (Laurence, 1989) For group of buildings, Chinese architecture is represented with close space of group. Many buildings lie in wide stretch in whole area. It is an esthetics of group, and, the arrangement the group prefers to be orderly and express the relationship between individual buildings and integer (Hui, 2005).


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Investigation on the influence of Chinese traditional elements in contemporary building design by Western architects in China
( Atlantic International University )
Doctorate in Architecture (PhD)
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traditional, elements, contemporary, design
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Dr. Razak Basri (Author), 2010, Investigation on the influence of Chinese traditional elements in contemporary building design by Western architects in China, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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