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The Chinese have lived in single-extended-family courtyard houses in many parts of China for thousands of years. The earliest courtyard house found in China was during the Middle Neolithic period (5000-3000 BCE). The courtyard form signifies Chinese quest for harmony with nature and in social relationships. However, the 20th century was a significant turning point in the evolution of Chinese courtyard houses; this paper provides an overview of this transition. It starts by briefly introducing traditional Chinese courtyard houses and their decline since 1949, it then examines the emergence of new courtyard housing in Beijing and Suzhou since the 1990s, and then it evaluates the new development of Chinese-style courtyard garden villas in/around these two cities since the 2000s, such as Beijing Guantang and Suzhou Fuyuan villa estates. They are explorations of a new way to honor Chinese architectural history and philosophy, meanwhile, incorporating Western interior design principles to meet modern living requirements. This architectural acculturation represents Chinese sustained quest for harmony in their art of living. The paper finally proposes four designs of new courtyard garden houses for future practice.

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Courtyard Housing in China: Chinese Quest for Harmony Dr.Donia Zhang * Oxford Brookes University, UK E mail: donia.zhang@oxfordbrookes.net A B S T R A C T The Chinese have lived in single-extended-family courtyard houses in many parts of China for thousands of years. The earliest courtyard house found in China was during the Middle Neolithic period (5000-3000 BCE). The courtyard form signifies Chinese quest for harmony with nature and in social relationships. However, the 20th century was a significant turning point in the evolution of Chinese courtyard houses; this paper provides an overview of this transition. It starts by briefly introducing traditional Chinese courtyard houses and their decline since 1949, it then examines the emergence of new courtyard housing in Beijing and Suzhou since the 1990s, and then it evaluates the new development of Chinese-style courtyard garden villas in/around these two cities since the 2000s, such as Beijing Guantang and Suzhou Fuyuan villa estates. They are explorations of a new way to honor Chinese architectural history and philosophy, meanwhile, incorporating Western interior design principles to meet modern living requirements. This architectural acculturation represents Chinese sustained quest for harmony in their art of living. The paper finally proposes four designs of new courtyard garden houses for future practice. CONTEMPORARY URBAN AFFAIRS (2017) 1(2), 38-56. https://doi.org/10.25034/ijcua.2017.3647 www.ijcua.com Copyright © 2017 Contemporary Urban Affairs. All rights reserved. 1. Introduction This paper is a chronological overview of the transformation of Chinese courtyard houses over the last 60 years (1950-2010). It briefly introduces traditional Chinese courtyard houses from ancient times and their decline since 1949, it then examines the rise of new courtyard housing in Beijing and Suzhou since the 1990s, and the focus is on the growth of Chinese-style courtyard garden villas in/around Beijing and Suzhou since the 2000s. The original contributions are in the discussion of the two generations of new courtyard house types based on the author’s onsite and online surveys, as well as the four designs of new courtyard garden houses for future practice. Two historic and cultural cities in China, Beijing and Suzhou, have been chosen as the case-study sites because they have followed the city planning principles set in the Record of Trades in Rituals of Zhou (Zhou Li Kao Gong Ji) and Feng Shui theory. Their traditional courtyard houses embedded in their urban fabric are representative of traditional Chinese urban culture despite their climatic differences. Beijing is a northern Chinese city with a rich history of 3000 years, and as China’s capital for 800 years; its famous siheyuan (courtyard houses) with strict axial, bilateral, symmetrical, and hierarchical planning embody the Confucian ideal of “harmony in social relationships.” Suzhou is a southern Chinese city with a prosperous history of 2500 years, and was a regional capital renowned also for its private gardens enclosed within courtyard house compounds, whose spontaneous layouts reflect the Daoist principle of “harmony with nature.” They were thought to offer a good comparison of their traditional courtyard use and the contemporary new courtyard housing. 2. THE QUEST FOR HARMONY THROUGH COURTYARD HOUSES The courtyard house is one of the oldest types of human habitat, spanning at least 5000 years and occurring in distinctive forms in many parts of the world across climates and cultures, such as China, India, the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, North Africa, ancient Greece and Rome, Spain, and Latin-Hispanic America (Blaser, 1985, 1995; Edwards et al., 2006; Knapp, 2005; Land, 2006; Ma, 1999; Pfeifer and Brauneck, 2008; Arenibafo, 2017; Polyzoides et al., 1982/1992; Rabbat, 2010; Reynolds, 2002). Archaeological excavations unearthed the earliest courtyard house in China during the Middle Neolithic period, represented by the Yangshao culture (5000-3000 BCE) (Liu, 2002). Ancient Chinese people favored the courtyard form because it offered light, air, and views, as well as defence, security, family privacy, and control of noise and dust. Moreover, the courtyard functioned as a place for cultural activities and festivities when weather permitted (Knapp, 2005; Ma, 1993, 1999; Zhang, 2011, 2013/2016, 2015a). Figure 1. Reconstruction drawing of a large courtyard house compound at Fengchu, Qishan, Shaanxi province, Western Zhou period (1046-771 BCE). Source: Liu, 2002, p. 27. A traditional Chinese house would normally host an extended family of three or four generations, and courtyards or lightwells (tianjing) were important features in the layout of a fully built Chinese house. The shape and size of the courtyards are determined by the amount of sunlight desired in the space. For example, in southern China, the courtyards are smaller, called tianjing (lightwells), to reduce the summer sunlight; whereas in northern China, the courtyards are relatively large to allow abundant sunlight in the winter. Philosophically, the courtyard is the soul of Chinese architecture;itacts asa link between Heaven and Earth.During the Han dynasty (c.206 BCE-220 CE), the Chinese regarded Heaven and Earth as a macrocosm and the human body a microcosm to reflect the universe (Chang, 1986); offering sacrifices to Heaven and Earth in the courtyard was considered crucial to bringing harmony and good fortune (Flath, 2005). Ronald G. Knapp’s book Chinese houses: The Architectural Heritage of a Nation (2005) is a masterpiece on the subject.

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Courtyard Housing in China: Chinese Quest for Harmony Dr.Donia Zhang * Oxford Brookes University, UK E mail: donia.zhang@oxfordbrookes.net A B S T R A C T The Chinese have lived in single-extended-family courtyard houses in many parts of China for thousands of years. The earliest courtyard house found in China was during the Middle Neolithic period (5000-3000 BCE). The courtyard form signifies Chinese quest for harmony with nature and in social relationships. However, the 20th century was a significant turning point in the evolution of Chinese courtyard houses; this paper provides an overview of this transition. It starts by briefly introducing traditional Chinese courtyard houses and their decline since 1949, it then examines the emergence of new courtyard housing in Beijing and Suzhou since the 1990s, and then it evaluates the new development of Chinese-style courtyard garden villas in/around these two cities since the 2000s, such as Beijing Guantang and Suzhou Fuyuan villa estates. They are explorations of a new way to honor Chinese architectural history and philosophy, meanwhile, incorporating Western interior design principles to meet modern living requirements. This architectural acculturation represents Chinese sustained quest for harmony in their art of living. The paper finally proposes four designs of new courtyard garden houses for future practice. CONTEMPORARY URBAN AFFAIRS (2017) 1(2), 38-56. https://doi.org/10.25034/ijcua.2017.3647 www.ijcua.com Copyright © 2017 Contemporary Urban Affairs. All rights reserved. 1. Introduction This paper is a chronological overview of the transformation of Chinese courtyard houses over the last 60 years (1950-2010). It briefly introduces traditional Chinese courtyard houses from ancient times and their decline since 1949, it then examines the rise of new courtyard housing in Beijing and Suzhou since the 1990s, and the focus is on the growth of Chinese-style courtyard garden villas in/around Beijing and Suzhou since the 2000s. The original contributions are in the discussion of the two generations of new courtyard house types based on the author’s onsite and online surveys, as well as the four designs of new courtyard garden houses for future practice. Two historic and cultural cities in China, Beijing and Suzhou, have been chosen as the case-study sites because they have followed the city planning principles set in the Record of Trades in Rituals of Zhou (Zhou Li Kao Gong Ji) and Feng Shui theory. Their traditional courtyard houses embedded in their urban fabric are representative of traditional Chinese urban culture despite their climatic differences. Beijing is a northern Chinese city with a rich history of 3000 years, and as China’s capital for 800 years; its famous siheyuan (courtyard houses) with strict axial, bilateral, symmetrical, and hierarchical planning embody the Confucian ideal of “harmony in social relationships.” Suzhou is a southern Chinese city with a prosperous history of 2500 years, and was a regional capital renowned also for its private gardens enclosed within courtyard house compounds, whose spontaneous layouts reflect the Daoist principle of “harmony with nature.” They were thought to offer a good comparison of their traditional courtyard use and the contemporary new courtyard housing. 2. THE QUEST FOR HARMONY THROUGH COURTYARD HOUSES The courtyard house is one of the oldest types of human habitat, spanning at least 5000 years and occurring in distinctive forms in many parts of the world across climates and cultures, such as China, India, the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, North Africa, ancient Greece and Rome, Spain, and Latin-Hispanic America (Blaser, 1985, 1995; Edwards et al., 2006; Knapp, 2005; Land, 2006; Ma, 1999; Pfeifer and Brauneck, 2008; Arenibafo, 2017; Polyzoides et al., 1982/1992; Rabbat, 2010; Reynolds, 2002). Archaeological excavations unearthed the earliest courtyard house in China during the Middle Neolithic period, represented by the Yangshao culture (5000-3000 BCE) (Liu, 2002). Ancient Chinese people favored the courtyard form because it offered light, air, and views, as well as defence, security, family privacy, and control of noise and dust. Moreover, the courtyard functioned as a place for cultural activities and festivities when weather permitted (Knapp, 2005; Ma, 1993, 1999; Zhang, 2011, 2013/2016, 2015a). Figure 1. Reconstruction drawing of a large courtyard house compound at Fengchu, Qishan, Shaanxi province, Western Zhou period (1046-771 BCE). Source: Liu, 2002, p. 27. A traditional Chinese house would normally host an extended family of three or four generations, and courtyards or lightwells (tianjing) were important features in the layout of a fully built Chinese house. The shape and size of the courtyards are determined by the amount of sunlight desired in the space. For example, in southern China, the courtyards are smaller, called tianjing (lightwells), to reduce the summer sunlight; whereas in northern China, the courtyards are relatively large to allow abundant sunlight in the winter. Philosophically, the courtyard is the soul of Chinese architecture;itacts asa link between Heaven and Earth.During the Han dynasty (c.206 BCE-220 CE), the Chinese regarded Heaven and Earth as a macrocosm and the human body a microcosm to reflect the universe (Chang, 1986); offering sacrifices to Heaven and Earth in the courtyard was considered crucial to bringing harmony and good fortune (Flath, 2005). Ronald G. Knapp’s book Chinese houses: The Architectural Heritage of a Nation (2005) is a masterpiece on the subject.

Journal of Contemporary Urban Affairs
Girne American University

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This page is a summary of: Courtyard Housing in China: Chinese Quest for Harmony, June 2017, Journal of Contemporary Urban Affairs (JCUA), DOI: 10.25034/ijcua.2017.3647.
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