In China, architecture and culture are closely related to one another. Many buildings hold cultural connotations. The facts from the culture of China help people understand the architectural structure and design better. Not only this, the architecture is well adapted to the environment. The design conforms to the needs and culture and also helps propagate the social norms and order.

The importance of the emperor, as the central figure for the society, can be seen in the planning and placement of the palace in the city and the hierarchical landscaping of the palace complex.

Past, Present and Future: Architecture of China - Sheet1
Chinese Palace Complex_©

The gardens and courtyards were one of the most important considerations for the imperial clans and nobles, layout following principles derived from that of the cosmological beliefs of society.

Unlike the European landscaping, the Chinese gardens unfold for the user scene by scene.

Ancient Chinese Age | Architecture of China

The Chinese civilization has and still encompasses a diverse set of cultural beliefs, social and economic structure and technology. The civilisation developed agriculture and animal domestication in 1000 BC and a steady dynasty led to the advancement of cosmology, geomancy, astrology and numerology.

A diagram of the cosmos was made, which placed man, state, nature and heaven in harmony. The cities of ancient China were planned in the context of this cosmic diagram.

Ancient Chinese architecture mainly works with timber. Wooden beams, posts, joints and lintels make up the framework of the house. These were also the load-bearing elements of the house; the walls that separated one room from another did not carry any load.

The Neolithic Era

Neolithic China saw the development of beliefs and practices prominently taking inspiration from the crop cycle. This was because agriculture was the primary and the most important activity for society as a whole.
The year was harmonised to the agricultural year, timed by the movement of the big dipper constellation.

A city in this era would consist of about 200 houses and a great hall which was surrounded by a ditch. The houses were round pits.

Past, Present and Future: Architecture of China - Sheet2
Rounf Pitted House_©

This was a time when the world’s shape was described by a parallel cosmology, of round heaven revolving around square earth. Later, the round pitted houses too became square along with the borders of the city.

The great hall became the prototype for later palaces and imperial cities.

The Bronze and Iron Age | Architecture of China

During the transition from the neolithic age to the bronze age, many different beliefs and cultural practices were woven into a coherent and harmonious philosophy and political system.

The emperor who was believed to keep heaven and earth in harmony with each other was kept at the centre of the now square geography of the state. They exercised absolute power. An adviser class would interpret the ‘omens’ of heaven to inform his or her course of action.

The Iron Age witnessed a lot of chaos in the political picture of the country. Each new power promoted their way of life, and that translated to architecture and urban planning. Thus a lot of experimentation was done. A new class of independent merchants, artisans and scholars grew.

By the time the Qin dynasty came into power, each city had an architectural identity of its own. Though high walls, large gates and towers were a common feature in the towns of the warring states. The tower was a symbol of power and social order. The marketplace, a relatively new addition to the urban landscape, was looked over by these towers.

Past, Present and Future: Architecture of China - Sheet3
City Walls_©

Present Day China

China, since opening up to the world in the ’80s has become the focal point of cutting edge architecture. The absence of a union, 24 hours work divided into shifts, technology along with the use of prefabricated parts, not only make the construction super cheap and fast when compared to the western world but at the same time allows freedom to design something completely out of the box. Sometimes a bit unconventional, like the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium designed by a team of many architects.

Past, Present and Future: Architecture of China - Sheet4
Birds Nest Olympic Stadium_©

Many buildings built in present-day China are bold or ridiculous, depending on the perspective of the individual. Some have compared the architecture here with the fashion in fashion shows; something which is good to look at, but you would never catch anyone wearing it on the streets.

Many argue that the modern architecture of China is disconnected from the country, the culture and the heritage of the people. Some complain that the designs are for foreign taste rather than Chinese ones.

What Future Might Hold For China | Architecture of China

The construction force in China has been one of the major driving forces in the nation’s economy since the 1980s. The architecture of China is presently using advanced technology and materials, which is expected to be the direction design and construction will be taking in the future. 

The openness of the country to the world in the context of architecture is already driving it towards the path of more modernised, technologically advanced and green, sustainable architecture.

The Chinese architecture that has already disconnected from its local and native styles is growing towards a high rise construction, with materials like steel and glass. The practice in question is such not only because of the western influence but also the need to accommodate the world’s largest population and a big economy.


  • 2021. Chinese architecture – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 23 April 2021].
  • 2021. Chinese Ancient Architecture, Architectural Style, Construction. [online] Available at: <,which%20is%20unique%20to%20China.&text=The%20layout%20of%20a%20courtyard%20complex%20is%20also%20unique%20to%20China.> [Accessed 23 April 2021].

Currently, in the fourth year of B.Arch course at IIT Roorkee, Mansi Dengre is a young and passionate writer. Her area of interest lies in the softer aspects of design, the society, culture and narratives, and green architecture. Sometimes you might find her lost in books and music.