Chinese vs. Tibetan Architecture
Although Tibet is considered by Chinese to be one of the provinces of China, in terms of architecture and culture these two do not have much in common. In order to see those differences, you need to head to Lhasa as well as Beijing (the capital cities of Tibet and China) and explore various temples, government buildings, local houses and monasteries by yourself. It is highly recommended though to do some reading on Tibetan and Chinese architecture before you go there. Why? Most of the places have a history hidden behind the walls so you will feel much more excited and interested in it when you do see them.
As you will probably notice, Tibetan architecture has more in common with Indian styles than Chinese. The reason being, it expresses a very deep Buddhist approach China lacks of. Tibetan Buddhism is the soul of this country, therefore, you can see Buddhist statues in every single monastery and Buddhist flags flying from the rooftops (blue symbolizes sky, green air, red fire, white water and yellow earth). You will be blown away by colourfulness of Tibet.
Most of monasteries show the influence of Mongol architecture from about 7th century – the roof supported by wooden columns and all floors, ceilings and room dividers are made of wood as well. In Tibetan architecture the idea of merging all wooden pieces together is the key to success although buildings seem to look very simple.
Most of monasteries in Lhasa were made from construction materials available around the region – wood, clay and stones. The Tibetan roofs are usually flat, walls are up to a meter thick at the base and they always slope inward in order to look much higher.
As you can notice, all windows are very small in comparison to huge doors as the walls are way too heavy so the large openings might have made the whole structure weaker and unstable. Back in 10th and 11th century, most of the windows featured paper-covered wooden latticework.
Old buildings are a part of the Tibetan cultural heritage of the country and have a priceless value for architecture, history, culture and landscape. Once upon a time there were more than 500 old buildings located at Barkhor Street with only 93 left nowadays as most of them were destroyed by Chinese communist government.
Beijing is one of the most exciting cities in the world in terms of architecture a mixture of old, traditional buildings and bold, contemporary design.
Over the centuries, three basic styles of architecture have developed in Beijing – the oldest one called imperial style (Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Gate), the second evolved with the rise of Peoples Republic of China and includes buildings constructed during the first three decades of its existence (Tiananmen Square, the National Museum and the Beijing Railway Station) and finally the last style representing art objects constructed in 1980s (famous landmark CCTV tower).
Chinese architecture was mostly inspired by the Ming Dynasty characterised by its unstable construction materials, mainly wood and mud bricks.
Most of Chinese temples were built on a rectangular plan and were surrounded by a wall. All buildings, regardless of their type and size, were constructed according to the principles of feng shui – important areas were placed symmetrically on the north-south axis, while those of lesser importance – on the east and west side of this axis. The main entrance of each building was guarded inside a rectangular wall, which made it impossible to see the main courtyard. According to ancient Chinese tradition it was to protect the house or temple against the entry of “evil spirits”, which, as it was believed, could only move in a straight line.
One of the main distinguishing features of Chinese architecture are gently concaved roofs, compared to a low taut tent, ornamentation and vivid colours.
For example, the roof of the court buildings, such as the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, are covered with glazed, ceramic golden tiles. The roofs of temples are covered with glazed tiles, this time in green, and the Temple of Heaven – blue. It is worth noting that the status of the building is resembled by the colour of its walls. Houses could only be gray, and the courtly and religious objects were painted red.
Both Tibetan and Chinese architecture styles are one of a kind. Whether you visit China or Tibet you will be truly inspired by its unique, sometimes simple or sophisticated, buildings and temples you will not see anywhere else. I would strongly recommend to visit both.
Both Dale & Franca would like to thank Agness eTramping.com for this great post about the differences of architecture between these two countries with so much history. We especially loved the colours on show here from Tibet.