China is the world’s most populous country, with over 22 provinces that cover approximately 9.6 square kilometers of land. The large area of land in China contains various geographic characteristics that associate with distinct housing styles. Continue reading and discover 10 traditional housing typologies in China!

1. Siheyuan

Siheyuan, or the Chinese Quadrangles, refers to Beijing’s traditional courtyard house. It is where a squared courtyard locates right in the center of the four building blocks. The building complex includes the main house, the opposite house, the east wing, and the west wing. As the representation of the capital’s architecture style, Siheyuan has existed for over a hundred years.

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Sketch map of a small Siheyuan ©www.chinatourguide.com
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Siheyuan ©www.frameweb.com
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Siheyuan ©www.en.chinaculture.org

2. Yaodong 

Yaodong is a kind of cave dwellings that is found along the Loess Plateau, namely at provinces like Shanzi, Gansu, and Henan. It is a house where people dig caves or pits and build walls around it. Originally, Yaodongs were built to overcome the geographical challenges faced by citizens, as cliffs, slopes, and ridges are common in the area. These cave dwellings also serve as natural barriers and are adaptive to climate change. For instance, they are both rain and fireproof. On top of that, Yaodongs keep warmth in winter cold and enhance ventilation during the summer heat.

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Yaodong ©www.en.wikipedia.org
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Yaodong ©www.en.wikipedia.org
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Yaodong ©www.en.wikipedia.org

3. Tulou

The Fujian Tulous are Chinese rural dwellings that are unique to the Hakka. They can be found in the mountain areas in southeastern Fujian. A Tulou is a large, enclosed, and inward-looking complex, designed in a square or circular form. These load-bearing walls are thicker than a meter, with a gradual decrease in thickness upwards to reduce load. The walls that consist of earth and wood help protect Hakka’s residents from the army’s attack, that even cannon shots cannot cause serious damage to the building. Although a Tulou looks small, these dwellings have multi-story structures that can store up to eight hundred people!

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Tulous ©www.en.wikipedia.org
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Tulous ©www.en.wikipedia.org
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Tulous ©www.en.wikipedia.org

4. Boat-shaped house

Boat-shaped houses are the residential dwellings of the Li people in Hainan province. Unlike other types of houses, each Boat-shaped house is independent and is customized by one family. Therefore, the dwellings may look slightly different from one to another. Yet one thing that is in common among all dwellings is that their roof looks like an inverted boat, which is covered by thatches, coconut, and sunflower leaves that can be found in the forest. Underneath the roof are four walls that are woven by coconut, bamboo, and mango tree leaves. The roof and walls shelter people from rainy or stormy days. Also, it protects people from wild animals too!

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Boat-shaped ©www.hainanlife.info
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Boat-shaped ©www.hainanlife.info
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Boat-shaped ©www.hainanlife.info

5. Mongolian Yurt

The Mongolian Yurt is a portable domed tent for the nomads who live in the prairie. They can also be named as a “vaulted tent” or “felt tent” as it is portable, which makes it as convenient as a tent, allowing the Mongolians to settle down during their nomadic habits. In terms of building structure, Yurts are shaped by wooden supporting rings, which are covered with thick felt that is held tight by ropes. To provide sufficient lighting and ventilation to the interior space, each yurt has an opening on the top. 

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Mongolian Yurt ©www.nationalgeographic.org
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Mongolian Yurt ©www.nationalgeographic.org
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Mongolian Yurt ©www.nationalgeographic.org

6. Diaolou

Dialous were built by the residents of Kaipings during a times of chaos, where the local government lax in sustaining the city’s public safety. Like the medieval castles and other fortresses, Dialous has a defensive purpose. These towers were built with different materials – stone, bricks, clay, and reinforced concrete as the dominant material. Speaking of Dialou’s usage, people in the past store grains and hide inside their Dialous during the outbreak of wars. Today, there are approximately 1800 Dialous still standing in Kaiping. In 2007, they received a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing!

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Dialou ©www.en.wikipedia.org
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Dialou ©www.en.wikipedia.org
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Dialou ©www.en.wikipedia.org

7. Diaojiaolou 

Diaojiaolou refers to a house with “hanging feet”. They were built by The Miao, Dong, Zhuang, Yao, Tujia, Bouyei, and Shui ethnic minorities at the mountain forests of south China. Each house is approximately two to three stories high, with a square or rectangular wooden building that sits on wood columns or thick stilts. One benefit of building a house on columns or stilts is that it protects from wild intruders. Moreover, standing at a high location promotes ventilation, keeping the interior dry from the damp environment. 

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Diaojiaolou ©www.asiaculturaltravel.co.uk
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Diaojiaolou ©www.asiaculturaltravel.co.uk
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Diaojiaolou ©www.asiaculturaltravel.co.uk

8. Tuzhangfang

Tuzhangfang refers to a stone-house-like dwelling that is made up of clay, it is the home of the Yi ethnic group. Recognizing that the area has limited rainfall, a flat rooftop is applied. On top of the four earth walls are purlins that are laid from one end to another. The flat rooftops are sealed with mud and grass, upon which grains, fruits, and melons are dried.

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Tuzhangfang ©www.quaibaoqq.com
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Tuzhangfang ©www.quaibaoqq.com
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Tuzhangfang ©www.quaibaoqq.com

9. Bamboo building

Bamboo building is a type of dwelling built by the Dai ethnic group, residents of Yunnan province. By using bamboo as the main construction material, the house is benefited with excellent ventilation. In terms of building structure, since Yunnan locates at low terrain and has abundant rainfall, residents apply bamboo stilts underneath the building to prevent flooding. Besides, a pitched roof is applied on every house, it operates to disperse water like the scales of fish and the feathers of birds.

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Bamboo building ©www.yunnanexploration.com
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Bamboo building ©www.yunnanexploration.com
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Bamboo building ©www.yunnanexploration.com

10. Water town townhouse

Zhouzhuang near Suzhou in Jiangsu province is where small townhouses can be found. These traditional houses were built in the Ming and Qing dynasties long ago. Today, water towns have become one of the tourist spots in China and is renowned for its typical black-and-white design. As these townhouses located next to the river, the white walls are lightened up by shimmering, glittering reflections which give the colours a special richness.

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Water town townhouse ©www.en.wikipedia.org
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Water town townhouse ©www.en.wikipedia.org
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Water town townhouse ©www.en.wikipedia.org

References: 

Culture insider: 10 types of residential houses across China. (2014, June 23). Retrieved from https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/culture/2014-06/23/content_17605526.htm#Contentp

Zheng, J., & Chinese University of Hong Kong. Graduate School. Division of Architecture. (2012). Socio-political System and Vernacular Architectural Forms: A Study on Tulou in China (1958–1983) [electronic Resource].

Batto, P., & Hall, J. (2006). The Diaolou of Kaiping (1842-1937) Buildings for dangerous times. China Perspectives,(66), 2-17.

Diaojiaolou. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asiaculturaltravel.co.uk/diaojiaolou/

Knapp, R. (n.d.). Spaces and Structures. In China’s Old Dwellings (pp. 131–133).

Author

Josephine Pun is a student who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Architectural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Being a storyteller, journal and photography are channels that she uses to express her unique perception of architecture. Read her articles and experience architecture without leaving your couch!

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