Photography by Olivier Laude
Text by Ronald G. Knapp
The richly diverse vernacular architectural traditions of China are unrivaled in the world. No nation has as long an unbroken tradition and, with the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, none is as ethnically diverse. China, a nation of 56 nationalities living in disparate natural landscapes with widely varying climatic conditions, is certainly more varied in its housing patterns than is the case in single nations such as the United States or even in comparison with multi-national Europe. China's folk architectural forms, even as they portray common elements, clearly reveal the broad range of solutions that humans are capable of in providing basic shelter and creating homes for their families. The soaring silhouette of a Hakka fortress, the subdued grandeur of a Huizhou merchant's manse, the graceful "swallow's tail" ridgeline of a Taiwan farmer's house, the compact and utilitarian shape of a Mongol yurt, and the stark functionality of an underground dwelling in the loessial uplands are but a few of the notable examples of China's vernacular architecture that can still be seen today. Each emerged out of specific environmental and social conditions characteristic of China at different times in the past and in the different regions of the country's vast space.
Ronald G. Knapp is the author of books and articles on Chinese folk architecture including CHINA'S LIVING HOUSES: Folk Beliefs, Symbols, and Household Ornamentation that will be published by University of Hawaii Press in Fall 1998.
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