China’s civilization dates back to over 4000 years. As a result, it is not unusual that the Chinese have their own distinct beliefs, skills, and richly diverse arts and culture, which have been handed down through the ages.

An overview of Siheyuan - Sheet1
Siheyuan _ ©Beijing gu jianzhu.Beijing _Wenwu chuban she, 1959 plate 139

Chinese architecture is distinct from that of other cultures. “Feng Shui” is a significant factor in deciding the layout of a traditional Chinese structure, whether it is a palace or a temple. Chinese culture’s various socio-cultural, spiritual, climatic, aesthetic, and philosophical aspects all play a role. Further are details involved in constructing traditional Chinese buildings, particularly homes in the “Siheyuan” style. There are hutongs or alleys of such siheyuan houses in Beijing that bring people from all over the globe.

An overview of Siheyuan - Sheet2
Siheyuan _

Siheyuan, which means “quadrangle,” traces back more than 800 years, to the period when Beijing was recognised as the capital city. Siheyuan was a popular Chinese house style in ancient times. It is regarded as one of the most fundamental architectural structures for the Chinese.


Siheyuan is essentially a confined rectangular space with a central courtyard. It mainly comprises four houses: the main room, the opposite room, the East chamber, and the West chamber on the periphery with courtyards in between. 

An overview of Siheyuan - Sheet3
Siheyuan model_ ©Pubuhan – Own work

A siheyuan typically has three courtyards, though small ones may have only one courtyard and larger versions may have up to five courtyards. A courtyard is ideal for a family to live in because it protects them from outside intrusion, according to Feng Shui. It was also designed to maximise daylight and provide protection from north winds in mind. Moreover, it helps reduce noise and dust on the street while also deterring intruders. It offers complete privacy, reflecting the Chinese people’s sense of privacy.

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Siheyuan model_

The house is traditionally built on a northwest axis. The front of the house facing west, and the back would be facing north. This method of construction allows cool breezes to flow through the house in the summer and protects it from cold winds in the winter.

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Siheyuan entrance of lower-middle family _ ©Snowy owls

Front gate

A siheyuan has only one front gate, which varies in size depending on the owner’s status and wealth. Richer owners would have a larger front gate with more intricate ornaments on the wooden door and two stone lions guarding it. There would even be a gatekeeper’s room next to the gate in wealthy homes.

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A front entrance into a siheyuan (courtyard house) in Beijing_ ©

Spirit Wall

In traditional Chinese architecture, a spirit screen or a spirit wall is a construction that can be placed on the outside or inside of the gate with the purpose to guard the front gate.

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Screen wall _ ©ytdaily

Servant Quarters

A room with a backward orientation, next to the front gate. The southern room has the least amount of light and is used as servants’ quarters. The servants remained in the entrance area to greet guests and notify the house owner when someone arrived.


In Chinese, Ermen/Chuihuamen simply means “second gate” or “flower-hung gate.” This is an inner gate that separates the first and second courtyards.

Side houses

Side houses are another name for Xiangfang. The Chinese traditionally believed that the eastern was superior to the western xiangfang. The eastern xiangfang is typically used to house married sons. Western xiangfang are usually the rooms or kitchens of unmarried daughters.


Erfang means “ear rooms.” They get their name from the two rooms on either side of the main house that resemble ears. Erfang served as children’s or servants’ quarters, as well as storage or cooking areas.


Houzhaofang can only be found in siheyuan with more than three courtyards. The houzhaofang are typically used as unmarried daughters’ or female servants’ rooms because they are situated at the back of the siheyuan and have private areas.

Siheyuan’s construction explains the characteristics of the Chinese people as well as the strict hierarchical framework of the olden days, and it highlights Fengshui (Chinese traditional theory of geomancy). As a result, the residence layout is entirely based on the rules of a hierarchical system, to maintain the sequence of family members’ status.

Although the interior of the siheyuan indicates the family hierarchical system, the exterior reveals the classed society’s organisation. During the imperial period, siheyuan residences were subjected to several stringent restrictions. The constraints were graded based on the owner’s status and included small details like the style of roof tiles, the colour of the outside walls, and the decoration of the main gate. The main restriction that was implemented on all residential buildings was that no building could be higher than one storey. This indicated the emperor’s elevated status, residing behind the walled Imperative palace behind the heart of Beijing.

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Siheyuan _ @China Research Centre

Siheyuan are inseparable parts of any visit to Beijing because they are one-of-a-kind structures and an integral part of Beijing Architecture. When one trend changes into another at the speed of light in the twenty-first century, it is vital to develop design techniques that will not become obsolete within a few decades. It is difficult to achieve this without a thorough knowledge of the traditional architectural practices.


  1. Kelly Pang/ China Highlights (2021). Siheyuan – Chinese Courtyards [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 14/10/2021].
  2. C.SOPONPIMO / Bareo (2019). Siheyuan Classic Chinese Architecture [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 14/10/2021].
  3.     China Tours (2021). More secrets of ancient Chinese architecture styles: Insider tips for Western travelers [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 14/10/2021].

Shirley is an architecture student with an interest in sustainable design. She believes that as designers we must not only wisely design for people, but also share our ideas, thoughts, and vision with the community to make the beautiful nuances of architecture accessible to all.