the art of timber construction: chinese architectural models
aug 06, 2009
the art of timber construction: chinese architectural models

guanyin-hall, dule-monastery tianjin, jixian
(liao dynasty, 916-1125)
image courtesy chinese academy of cultural heritage, beijing

for about three centuries, almost all public buildings in china were built according
to a hardly ever changing construction system: an enormous, curved hip roof rests on
wooden posts with wide overhanging eaves and tile covering, supported by an elaborate
wooden construction. posts, purlins, as well as rows of short beams form a framework,
whose parts are only connected with pins, thus creating an elastic wooden framework
that can even absorb strong vibrations of earthquakes. the walls are only fitted in without
a load-bearing function. the wood of the white cedar used for construction tolerates four times
the tensile stress of steel, its compressive strength being more than six times as high as concrete.
this construction had the effect that many historical buildings could endure natural catastrophes,
hence wooden constructions of the 8th century ac still exist today. most of these buildings
are situated west of beijing in the shanxi province.

hall of thousand buddhas, temple zhihua, beijing
(ming dynasty, 1368-1644 )
image courtesy architekturmuseum der tu münchen

the specific chinese type of timber construction was laid down in
detail in a manual (yingzao fashi)
by order of the emperor in the 11th
century. due to these guidelines and the enormous
adaptability of the
system this characteristic timber construction has been passed on from

generation to generation until today.

in the 20th century, documentation and teaching models of the highest
accuracy were
made of the most important buddhist temples and palace
complexes. these large-scale
models precisely show all the details in
order to enable their study and a possible
reconstruction of the
historical buildings.

chunyang hall, yongle palace, ruicheng, shanxi province
(yuan dynasty 1271-1368)

image courtesy architekturmuseum der tu münchen

the exhibition of the architekturmuseum shows 19 of these models, among
the detailed models of the bracket system (dougong), the
reproductions of the oldest timber
constructions existing in china,
such as the nanchan temple (tang dynasty, 782 ac, wutai, shanxi),
foguang temple (tang dynasty, 857 ac, wutai, shanxi) and the guanyin
hall of the dule
monastery (liao dynasty, 984 ac, tianjin, jixin),
which survived 28 earthquakes including
that of 1679, with no other
building apart from this hall surviving in the area.
furthermore, the exhibition will present the models of the 300 m long
of the yongle-palace in ruicheng (yuan dynasty, 1271-1368,
shanxi province) consisting
of four halls, the 270 hectare complex of
the temple of heaven (ming and qing dynasty,
since 1420, beijing), as
well as a model of one of the 492 buddhist cave temples
of the area of
dunhuang, all of these complexes belonging to the unesco world cultural

main hal, temple nanchansi, wutai, shanxi province
(tang-dynastie, 618-907)

image courtesy architekturmuseum der tu münchen

bracketing cluster (dougong),
(song dynasty 960-1279)
image courtesy architekturmuseum der tu münchen

this collection of the chinese academy of cultural heritage in
beijing will be shown
for the first time outside of china  at the
architekturmuseum der tu münchen together
with photographs,
architectural surveys and the corresponding explanations.
the exhibition will run from october 22, 2009 – january 24, 2010.

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