Chinese, Korean and Japanese Architecture

Architectural designs were used by early builders to express the connection between human perspectives and nature. Most of the architectural designs were inspired by nature, cultural practices, and the religious practices of different people across the world. The Eastern Asia is a region that was and still is rich in architectural forms. Some of the early structures are still standing today and have become a symbol of the magnificence of the early architectures. This paper discusses the Eastern Asia architectures and seeks to explore factors that inspired the construction of buildings in the manner they were constructed.

When people talk about the Northeast Asia, it is usual thing to comment the three different countries, China, Korea and Japan. These three countries have a lot of similarities in history, culture and architecture, but they also have subtle differences, which are followed by the different characters of territories, temperatures and races (Fazio, Moffett, & Wodehouse, 2009). So, approaches concerning multiple factors like history, climate and culture are indispensable to compare the architecture of three different countries. The cultures of China, Korea and Japan are based on the mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism; they were developed by the attributes of their individual traditions. From the mixture of three important religions, each country’s style of architecture was focused on the symphony with nature, which could be found in the geometric axis and arrangement in plan, line of roofs and pillars in landscape, and philosophy about nature in garden plan. Therefore, the concepts of harmony, order and tolerance are the most important factors to understand the background knowledge of these three countries’ architecture. Each country’s architectural styles were settled in the process of translation about the concept of nature.

Generally speaking, Chinese architecture was on the position to challenge the nature, because their idea was based on the Sinocentrism, and they could open various possibilities to select architectural material, because of their huge territory. The character of Korean architecture related with nature was based on the concept of moderation due to their location in the Korean peninsula, while Japanese architecture was made upon the concept of the abbreviation and connotation. In this essay, I will compare Korean, Chinese and Japanese architectures, especially, focusing on philosophic meaning, relationship and influence of nature in architecture, with specific traditional buildings; Byuckha Temple on Tai mountain in China, Buseok Temple in Korea, and Katsura Imperial Villa in Japan.

The emergent of architectural designs in China influenced the preceding architecture in the whole East Asia. Nevertheless, some regions like Japan and South Korea have also their own definitive architecture in constructing structures and any other features that were made by man in the region (Knapp, Spencer, & Ong, 2006). The Korean, Chinese and Japanese architectures with the entrenched philosophical meaning are classical examples of the relationship and influence of nature in architecture. The specific traditional buildings, such as Byuckha Temple on Tai mountain in China, Buseok Temple in Korea, and Katsura imperial villa in Japan presents a good example of how nature, culture, religion, and the general conviction of people in the region defined the way they perceived architecture during the early years of civilization. These structures are the representation of ancient architectural designs and are important in understanding the way people perceived the relationship and the link between human practices and the activities of men (Bartholomew, 2007). It is through architectural designs that kingdoms, dynasties, and imperials were able to reinforce their rule over the masses of people. This means that architecture seemed to define every aspect of the community from the religion to culture and political, economic, and social interactions that governed the association between leaders or rulers and the people, who were ruled or governed.

Japanese architecture has a lot of similarities with Korean and Chinese architecture, but it was developed by their own character (Goad, 2000). The basic concept in planning and structure is the same with Korean and Chinese architecture, but they used two notions, abbreviation and connotation, to make a beauty in architecture. In the form of Japanese architecture, we can see that Japanese architecture design in roof and wall is much simpler in comparison with Korean and Chinese architecture. In addition, there are a few decorations in Japanese traditional architecture. In the relationship between nature and architecture, Japanese tend to imply nature into architecture as a small scale. Their own way to make a symphony between architecture and nature is to connote philosophical meaning of nature and remake it as a part of architecture like garden. Katsura Imperial Villa is situated in the western suburbs of Kyoto, Japan. It is a villa with associated gardens and outbuildings. Katsura Imperial Villa is one of the most important large-scale cultural treasures in Japan. Its buildings are one of the greatest achievements of Japanese architecture and gardens are a masterpiece of Japanese gardening. This villa shows well how Japanese translate the notion of nature in architecture and what is their specific character in architecture (Goad, 2000).

Despite the blatant similarities that exist among the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean architectures, there are also differences that exist therein. As indicated by Bartholomew (2007), the East Asia architectural designs were all inspired by one or many factors. This is true across all the architectural designs in the region. This implies that it is possible that the inspiration for the construction and maintenance of architectural designs were inspired by nature or spiritual convictions or the cultural practices of the people in the region. They may also have been inspired by the need of leaders to perpetuate their kingdoms and imperialism to continue ruling over people by building structures, where people would come in reverence (Fletcher, 2005). They were a symbol of authority and power that leaders and rulers sought to instill in people. As such, the architectural designs were not merely a construction of dwelling places, but rather were symbols that signified the authority of those, who built them over a given people. Indeed, in some cases like in Japan, where there were numerous imperials, the architecture was even used as a competition tool among the imperial families that sought to have greater control over people. Therefore, the more magnificent imperial family managed to construct an architectural design, the more respect they were likely going to command from other imperial families. It was a struggle between different imperial families that sought to put one of them above the rest.

On top of the similarities in the influencing factors that inspired the construction of architecturally oriented structures in Japan, China, and South Korea, there were also similarities in the overall construction and planning in the buildings of Byuckha Temple on Tai mountain in China, Buseok Temple in Korea, and Katsura imperial villa in Japan. In all the three buildings, there is the use of huge timbers that were mainly for supporting the roofing of the building (Knapp, Spencer, & Ong, 2006). In all cases, the architects used well trimmed logs as load-bearing and also lateral beams that are used for framing the structure and support the roofs. The designers ensured that the used materials were exquisitely displayed so that they are all evident and can be viewed by the incoming visitor. The materials that were used in constructing the Byuckha Temple on Tai mountain in China, Buseok Temple in Korea, and Katsura Imperial Villa in Japan were rarely jointed with nails or glue but with artistic jointary techniques that were mastered by the builders. In addition, the buildings were constructed using noticeably even numbers of columns as a way of achieving the odd number in the support of the building and to allow a symmetrical structure in the overall outlook of the buildings. The planning was well executed to give an aura of tranquility and lifestyle that was typical of imperial families, which constructed the buildings.

The plot planning and structural principles of Chinese architecture have remained almost the same, only the decorative details being the main changes. China experienced many dynasties, which are based on different races, but basic architectural notions and fundamentals were kept in each different Chinese dynasty, because the Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism already suggested the clear direction to make architecture with enormous philosophical knowledge (Qinghua, 2004; Liang, 1984). The only part to compose Chinese architecture was to fit various characters of races in basic philosophical fundamentals. However, in the relationship between architecture and nature, China has their own character. Although Chinese architecture focused on the harmony with nature, they tended to challenge to nature. Chinese thought was that their country is in the center of the world and they are the main people. The huge territory and fluent resources could make this tendency, which leads to think of nature as one of the resources and object to challenge in architecture. The Byuckha Temple on Tai mountain is a good example to represent Chinese architectural character in the relationship with nature. The Byuckha Temple was built in Song dynasty for Taoism. This temple is built on the top of cliffs. Each building in the Byuckha Temple is planned on the simple geometric axis and those make stable and dynamic facade on the vertical lines of cliffs. From the symphony between horizontal lines of the Byuckha Temple and vertical lines, we can find the hidden Chinese philosophy about nature and architecture; Chinese was not only a friend, but also a challenger for nature (Goad, 2000).

Moreover, the Byuckha Temple on Tai mountain in China, Buseok Temple in Korea, and Katsura Imperial Villa in Japan have all had great influence on the modern architecture not only in the countries, where they are located, but also in other parts of the world. Mostly, the gardens and the representation of patterns and designs influenced the subsequent architectural designs that followed thereafter. Most of the 20th century designs and buildings in the Eastern Asia regions were inspired by the historical designs that outlined the role the imperialists and kingdoms had on the construction in the region (Liang, 1984). Evidently, this influence continued to the present day as these structures still influence the way people interact with architectural designs. They have been turned into attraction and cultural centers, where people come to learn about ancient architectural designs that the people used to capture the artistic means and the essence of culture, nature, and spiritual convictions. Most of the architectures found their inspiration in the minimal but orthogonal designs. The architectural designs have become well known in countries, such as Australia, India, and other regions, where influential ancient architectural designs continue to have an impact in the overall design and use of building design, which were loved in ancient times.

The architectural designs in Japan, China, and South Korea were both aligned to the purposes, to which the building was supposed to serve. This was exemplified in the use of construction materials and the general designs of those structures (Qinghua, 2004). For the commoners, who included merchants and farmers, the construction of their houses in the three regions did have a place that was specifically meant for the deities and the ancestors. This was in line with the general cultural belief that the dead dwelt among them and, therefore, a place within the house was specifically reserved for the deities and the ancestors, who came to dwell in those places. For the kingdoms and dynasties, the material and the colors that were used were specifically reserved for this purpose. For instance, the Chinese dynasties used yellow color as the color for the royalty and later used blue to signify the sky. The Japanese used a mixture of brown and green for the construction of imperial buildings. All this was done to differentiate the buildings meant for the leaders from those meant for the commoners. Furthermore, certain architectural features were mainly reserved for constructions of the leaders and emperors in China and South Korea. Some features could be shared with religious building to signify the closeness of the emperors with the supernatural beings that were mostly revered by the people in those places (Knapp, Spencer, & Ong, 2006). Even so, the religious building needed to be large and well known before it could be allowed to use the features that were reserved for the dynasties and imperials, such as color, type of material and many others.

The development of the architectural design in the East Asia countries of China, Japan, and Korea were mostly inspired by the religious and traditional practices that the people of these regions followed and practiced during early years of civilization (Fazio, Moffett, & Wodehouse, 2009). Most of the architectural designs were commissioned by the traditional and cultural leaders represented by dynasties, imperials, and kingdoms. This was a way of ensuring that the architecture represented the leadership and the practices of the cultural and religious leaders in the country. For instance, the Katsura Imperial Village built in the 16th century by the imperial families of Japan was and still is a representation of the traditional designs that were espoused in Japan. The design utilized the practices of the Shinto shrines and the philosophical views from the Zen Buddhists, who were dominant in the region during that period of development.

The civilization of people was thus entrenched and revealed through the architectural designs that people valued and recognized and pursued in their lives. The Katsura Imperial Village is many times described as the quintessence of the Japanese taste from the way in captures and mixes of the cultural, traditional, and spiritual convictions of people in the region with the architecture. Looking at the location of the Village, there is a general feeling that the people, who designed the village, were completely in touch with nature because it is located in a region, where it is easier to view the moon and other heavily bodies as they rise in the sky. This means that the architectural designs were deeply entrenched in nature and were to some extent guided.

The whole concept was connected with the relationship between nature and the architectural designs. Since religious and cultural practices formed a bulk of the traditional and everyday life of people in the region, it was inevitable that their constructions would reflect their passion and beliefs. It was an exposition of the relationship between religion and architectural perspectives that were being practiced by the people and the religious and political leaders during that period. The architects were hired on the basis of their ability to deliver the structures as defined and expected by the people, who had hired them. For instance, the Byuckha Temple on Tai mountain in China that was used for religious functions was mainly decorated with architectural features and design in the doors and pillars to signify the religious architecture complete with dragon designs to reveal the religious powers of the people, who used the building.

Another feature in the architectural designs in China, Japan, and the South Korea is the influence of religion in the constructions (Goad, 2000). The Buddhist, Confucianism, and Taoism played a great role in the architectural designs of Byuckha Temple on Tai mountain in China, Buseok Temple in Korea, and Katsura Imperial Villa in Japan. There was a usually a strong linkage between the architectural designs and the religious beliefs of people in those regions. This was because the rulers and the emperor viewed themselves as the custodian of the traditional and cultural belief systems and thus, took upon themselves to ensure that the role was reflected in the architectural designs that were built in their territories. This therefore, began with the temples and other imperial places, where the dynasties and kingdoms dwelt. Those dwelling places were a symbol of power, which indicated that they were the ones, who were in power.

The one word to express well the character of Korean architecture is moderation. Korean is well known for the race of white, because they usually wore the white clothes in the past (Liang, 1984). Like the white color of their clothes in the past, they tried to make architecture as a plain background of picture or an organic part of nature. In short, the ultimate purpose of Korean traditional architecture is to make a perfect symphony between nature and architecture from belonging to nature. Buseok Temple represents really well how nature is related with architecture by Korean philosophy in architecture. When people visit Buseok temple, they could feel the story line like the story of life from the long esplanade beside the mountain to the highlighted building, which is called Muryangsujeon. In the circulation of Buseok Temple, we can read the concept of road as an esplanade, which is similar with Le Corbusier’s theory about architectural path (Goad, 2000). The other attraction of Buseok temple came from the torsion of axis for circulation in front of the main site of Buseok temple. People could have a spare time to be ready for visit to Buseok Temple’s main buildings, from the long esplanade toward this temple. To visit the highlighted space, Muryangsujeon, people should go through the stairs beyond building. When they stand on the square in front of Muryangsujeon, finally, they could see the Muryangsujeon, which includes the gold Buddha sculpture. Moreover, when visitors look around the scenery at Muryangsujeon, they could see that elegant lines of roof and walls in Buseok Temple make an incredible harmony with the landscape of mountain. Buseok Temple is a good example how architecture could be one part of nature.

In conclusion, the ultimate purpose to make a beauty in architecture was to make a harmony with nature in Korea, China and Japan. However, Chinese tended to challenge to nature to make majestic architecture due to their Sinocentrism, while Korean and Japanese tried to make a harmonious landscape between architecture and nature. In the way to make a harmony with nature, Korean tended to make architecture as a part of nature with the concept of moderation, but Japanese tried to imply nature into architecture as a small scale object like garden with the concept of abbreviation. In both cases, the architectural designs were aimed at capturing the essence of nature and how it related with the use of spiritual, cultural and political practices that were common in the three regions. The three have several families that both claimed leadership and influence and thus, the construction of magnificent buildings was not only meant at revealing the capacity of such kingdoms, but also to attract the support of people over the other kingdoms. In essence, the architectural designs were mainly used as political tools to impart influence and power over the other leadership or rulers in the same regions. In both cases, the materials that were used to construct the buildings were almost similar and this indicates the wave of the architectural expertise that the people in these regions possessed.

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