Sacred Places in Beijing

Key elements (architecture)

I lived overall about 4 years in the capital of China, firstly between 2013 and 2015 and then from 2018 to 2020.

During the last 2 years, I spent time to explore Beijing and discovered various architecture style. 

The concept of this series aims at showing the traditionnal architecture of Beijing through temples. I want to go further than just posting photos in adding textual key informations which are relevant to know. 
For this first post, I will briefly explain the key points of the traditionnal chinese architecture, as a baseline for the future virtual visits.This first approach focuses only on functionality. They are many aspects to talk about but it will take too long.

Key elements (functionality) in the traditionnal chinese architecture.

– Layout;
– Wood (material);
– Columns ;
– Beams;
– Dougong (wooden brackets)
– roofs.

Taoist architecture includes various structures according to different functions, categorized as palace for oblation, altar for praying and offering, space for religious service, residence for Taoist monks and garden for visitors.


The traditionnal chinese architecture has a wooden frame. Chinese people trust that life is connecting with nature and humans should interact with animated things, therefore wood was favored as opposed to stone, which was associated with the homes of the dead.


The wooden columns rest on a flat stone surface, slightly wider than the columns themselves. Those columns are never embeded into the ground, it’s allow them to move in case of earthquake rather than break.


Use of large structural timbers are needed for primary support of the roof. Wooden timber, usually large trimmed logs, are used as load-bearing columns and lateral beams for framing buildings and supporting the roofs. These beams are connected to each other.

DOUGONGS (wood brackets)

Dou-gong are two distinct but related components : the « gong » are nested (there is no nail) with a block of wood called « dou ». In the whole assembly, their shape vary and each « dou » and « gong » has their own name. 

The Dougong plays a key role in the construction : they connect the beams with the columns and distribute the roof load. They are also a decorative and aesthetic element. 
More than that, in the case of a earthquake, thanks to their joint system, they are a real shock-absorber, allowing the whole structure to move, instead of break.


Curved roofs are almost omnipresent in traditional Chinese architecture. Their wide eaves shield the walls below from the fiercest wind-driven rain. This characteristic kept the internal pillars and brackets protected from erosion caused by rainwater.

Tiles were the most common material used for ancient Chinese roofs. They provided good protection against fire, stayed waterproof, and were good for drainage.Their extreme heavy load weighs the building structure down.

Hoping you liked this first post ! Don’t hesitate to leave a constructive comment. Thanks!

About Author

Aesthete between China and France.