Design and Construction of Chinese Contemporary Traditional-Style Buildings -- A case study of the Water Street in Yancheng, China

  • Yan Li

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores contemporary traditional-style architecture that were designed and constructed in various ways to reflect traditional Chinese architectural culture, and roles of craftsmen played in the processes of construction of those buildings. By discussing the traditional-style architecture that were built since the beginning of the nineteenth century, this study analyzed how the buildings were designed to express the architectural traditional in associated with the traditions of the Chinese culture on spatial arrangements and craftsmanship inherited by craftsmen.

The principles of Confucianism and Taoism had fundamental influence on various aspects of the building design and construction, such as the spatial arrangements, structures, and decorations. Buildings are designed to express the traditional culture in the traditional forms and design language. Based on a case study of Water Street in Yancheng, China, this thesis investigates the design ideas that associated with traditional architectural principles and design elements.

Many existing studies discussed traditional buildings’ forms, materials, as well as design and structural details. Yet the roles of craftsmen who built, and in many cases designed those buildings, have been underestimated in the existing research in architecture and architectural history, and few studies focus on how craftsmen were trained and developed in the apprenticeship programme. This thesis discusses the changes of the identities and practices of craftsmen today, and how they engaged with artistical aspects of the construction, and their innovative solutions to construct buildings with contemporary materials, technologies and tools. By conducting field study with brick make factories, interviewing with project manager, the study argues that the difficulties for education and practices that contemporary craftsmen face are the main reasons that the craftsmanship declining in the current building industry. Therefore, the phenomena of lacking culture representations in some contemporary Chinese buildings are not only due to the superficially imitated details of the traditional buildings, but also because of the neglect of the practice of traditional craftsmen and how traditional apprentice system worked.

The study also carried out questionnaires to local residents and tourists visiting the Water Street and analyzed people's desires for experience in a traditional-style commercial street and their thoughts about the newly constructed traditional-style Water Street.

This study argues that although criticisms can be raised about the superficial nature of reproducing timber construction in concrete in the Water Street, the spatial arrangements of the street seek to inherit a deep tradition of cultural heritage in the local areas which reflected needs of local people and visitors. The craftsmanship for constructing the Water Street have also created innovative methods that made use of the contemporary technologies, materials and tools to create the traditional building forms. However, in order to revive the traditional craftsmanship and keep the traditional knowledge and skills alive, systematic supports to craftsmen’s education, practices and the recognitions of their contributions to the architectural heritage are urgently needed.
Date of Award21 Sep 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorYun Gao (Main Supervisor) & Patricia Tzortzopoulos (Co-Supervisor)

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