ARCHITECTURE is not just about designing vertical structures, it can be a reflection of culture. From ancient buildings to modern skyscrapers, Chinese architecture has lived up to that statement. Even if it has adopted modern practices, it has remained constant through the centuries. There are several features that make Chinese culture very significant.

The RCBC tower in Makati City demonstrates the combining of traditional Chinese and modern architectural practices and features. PHOTO BY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
The RCBC tower in Makati City demonstrates the combining of traditional Chinese and modern architectural practices and features. PHOTO BY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Cosmology

It would be impossible to discuss Chinese architecture without mentioning the involvement of cosmology. As one may expect, traditional Chinese subscribe to feng shui (geomancy) as well as Taoist beliefs in the design and construction phase of a structure.

The location on where the structure will be built, the placement of the furniture and fixtures, the inclusion of certain features, as well as the owner's date of birth, are all taken into account and can influence the flow of energy whether positive or negative.

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'Bilateral symmetry'

Chinese architecture emphasizes balance through articulation and bilateral symmetry. Even if an abode is being renovated, it will often try to maintain this symmetry. Another way this is manifested is when secondary elements are positioned on either side of the main structures as two wings. The buildings are typically planned to contain an even number of columns in a structure to produce an odd number of bays. With the inclusion of the main door to a building in the center bay, symmetry is maintained.

Enclosure

In Chinese architecture, buildings or complexes take up an entire property but enclose open spaces within themselves. In traditional homes, these can be seen in courtyards and "sky wells." These spaces are usually open or empty. These also serve another function beyond aesthetics. As China has four seasons, they serve to regulate temperature or facilitate ventilation or the circulation of air.

Sky wells can collect water from rooftops during rain back then when modern plumbing was still unknown.

Horizontal

Classical Chinese buildings, especially those of the elites of society, are built with an emphasis on breadth and less on height, featuring an enclosed heavy platform and a large roof that floats over this base, with the vertical walls not well emphasized. Buildings that were too high and large were considered unsightly, and therefore generally avoided. Chinese architecture stresses the visual impact of the width of the buildings, using sheer scale to inspire awe in visitors. This preference contrasts Western architecture, which tends to grow in height and depth.

The halls and palaces in the Forbidden City, have rather low ceilings when compared to equivalent stately buildings in the West, but their external appearances suggest the all-encompassing nature of imperial China.

Chinese architecture today

You might expect Chinese architecture to show the same features in modern times — curved overhanging roofs, pagoda-like structures and the like. But this is not always the case. Probably you will see it only in temples but when it comes to modern-day structures, Chinese architecture has adopted western style practices by the 1980s when China opened up to the world.

These can be seen in buildings such as the Jin Mao Building in Shanghai and the National Stadium (Bird's Nest) in Beijing in China. Outside China, there is the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, which resembles a bamboo. In the Philippines, one good example would be the RCBC (Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.) Plaza in Makati City, which features a courtyard. Their status as architectural showpieces familiar to people worldwide is well established.

If there is anything that can be gleaned, Chinese architecture has remained constant through time, and despite adopting western styles, one can still see the features in these structures.