Forgotten Monuments



Forgotten Monuments

: Reinventing East Asian Timber Buildings

Since the early 20th centuries, traditional East Asian architecture has faced impending extinction, which Liang Sicheng has stated in his notable book, “Pictorial History of Chinese Architecture”.[1]   The traditional timber frame building in East Asian countries such as China, Japan, and Korea has been replaced by a new building system such as reinforced concrete and steel frames. Moreover, globalization blurred the boundaries between countries of different continents so that characteristics in regional architecture had become ambiguous and easily absorbed into single contemporary architectural paradigm. This situation has seen traditional East Asian architecture lose its realm, one which had lasted for thousands years.


Obstacles to moderning East Asian timber frame buildings are, firstly, the insufficiency of the major construction material, timber; secondly inefficiency of construction compared to modern buildings, and lastly, lack of standardization for building elements. For example, the parts of the roof structure such as the wooden bracket system were a difficult part for industrialization due to their complexity of joinery by discrete elements.


However, by virtue of advanced computer techniques and digital fabrication, East Asian traditional architecture may have intriguing and challenging new design possibilities. Particularly, complex assemblies in traditional buildings such as the wooden bracket system known as dou-gong in China and gong-po in Korea will benefit from today’s technology.


The research consists of 2 parts; the first part is a historical analysis of timber structure buildings in China, Japan, and Korea focusing on bracket systems. This research will look at the different development of systems in each East Asian countries. Through these comparative studies, the research will see the historical evolution of the systems. The second part of the research is a series of design projects, the ‘Tree Series.’ This series aims to reinterpret bracket systems by using algorithmic design methodology and digital fabrication.

Finally, the research will propose an architectural prototype that combines all of the previous research and design works. In the new context of using the recent developments of computational methodologies in design and fabrication, this series of research and built works intends to constitute a novel step in reinventing and evolving the traditional wooden structural system for a new design and construction.

[1] Now, with the coming of reinforced concrete and steel framing, Chinese architecture faces a grave situation. Indeed, there is a basic similarity between the ancient Chinese and the ultra modern. But can they be combined? Can the traditional Chinese structural system find a new expression in these new materials? Possibly. But it must not be the blind imitation of “periods.” Something new must come out of it, or Chinese architecture will become extinct. (Liang, Sicheng, Pictorial History of Chinese Architecture. P. 3.)