Chinese and European Perspective on Architecture and Heritage

  • Gao, Y. (Speaker)
  • Nicholas Temple (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


In this study we examine an aspect of our forthcoming book, The Temporality of Building, which is a comparative study of building through time between Chinese and European traditions. The relation between time, setting/location and built form in European architecture was the broad theme of Marvin Trachtenberg’s recent book Building-in-Time: From Giotto to Alberti and Modern Oblivion (Yale University, 2010). Trachtenberg identified in this study the emergence of a conflictual relationship in Early Modern Europe between two modes of building temporality: the first constitutes the “time of the building itself”, in its relationship to site, physical substance and design, and the other the “lifeworld of a building” which encompassed all aspects of a building’s existence, from its patronage, political influences, religious practices, and economic and social contexts. In our paper we use Trachtenberg’s dialectical model of building temporality as a lens for comparing building practices in China and Europe. The paper begins with a brief comparative study of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Forbidden City in Beijing, highlighting how building through time in both examples diverge, reflecting very different attitudes towards material culture, concepts of heritage and physical and cultural contexts. The second part of the paper will examine a contemporary building project in Yancheng (Salt City), an ancient city located on the north bank of the Yangtze River. Called ‘Water Street’, this commercial project was modelled on traditional shopping streets from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The study will demonstrate how the conscious emulation of building form and associated ceremonial/ritual practices from the past, in a city whose built heritage was largely erased from history, provides an intriguing example of how ‘historical fabrication’ was implemented outside any temporal or contextual framework that would be deemed meaningful from a Western (European) perspective.
Period21 Nov 2018
Held atUniversity of Exeter, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational