In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Architecture of East Asia

  • Introduction
  • Pre-1950s Overviews
  • Post-1950s Overviews, including Global Architectural Surveys
  • The Modern Period
  • General Discussions
  • Collected Writings and Conference Proceedings
  • Periodicals
  • Urbanism
  • Gardens
  • Vernacular

Architecture Planning and Preservation Architecture of East Asia
Nancy S. Steinhardt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0048


East Asia is a modern geographic designation. Today East Asia comprises China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Tibet. Parts of all of them except Japan have at one time been part of China. China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam use Chinese characters in their classical languages. Buddhist architecture stands in all six countries. Still, books and articles about East Asian architecture are few. The majority of published material concerns only one East Asian country. Several features characterize architecture across East Asia from the earliest evidence through the 19th century. The majority of buildings are supported by timber frames. The timber pieces are modular, so the measurements of certain components can be used to derive the measurements of others. Buildings usually are part of groups that form around or inside courtyards. Sometimes the courtyards are enclosed by covered arcades; other times they are enclosed by walls. The principles of enclosure and walling extend to cities. A front gate is part of almost any East Asian building group. Although it is rare for a building in East Asia to stand in isolation, every building group has one main structure. Most architecture in East Asia is built by craftsmen. Few names of architects survive, however. The patrons of East Asia’s most significant buildings were rulers and aristocrats.

Pre-1950s Overviews

The earliest general overviews of East Asian architecture were compiled in Japan in the second through fifth decades of the 20th century, the period leading up to and during the Second World War. Two of the most prolific compilers were Sekino Tadashi (b. 1868–d. 1935) and Itō Chūta (b. 1867–d. 1954), both of whom led research teams in territory known as Manchuria that is today the northeastern Chinese provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, North Korea, and eastern Inner Mongolia. The old books often are extremely important, for they sometimes contain information about buildings lost during the wars of the 1930s and 1940s or later strife. Moreover, the research is sound, offering initial photographs and information about many buildings, including some that no longer survive or have been restored. Some surviving buildings described in early works have been significantly restored in recent decades. The major surveys of East Asian architectural history of the 1910s and 1920s are in Japanese. Itō 1936–1937, Sekino 1929–1930 are examples. Because of changing borders during the decades of warfare, a work such as Sekino 1929–1930, with Korea in the title, includes buildings that today are in northeastern China.

  • Itō Chūta. Tōyō geijutsu shiryō. Tokyo: Nihon Bijutusha, 1909.

    This volume (East Asian art materials), includes information about all the arts, including architecture. Rare.

  • Itō Chūta. Tōyō kenchiku no kenkyū. Tokyo: Ryūginsha, 1936–1937.

    This work (Research on East Asian architecture) is perhaps the most representative compilation of research by a Japanese team working in continental East Asia during the years of the Japanese Occupation of Manchuria. It is also typical of works of the period, for which the writing and publication took place more than a decade after the research.

  • Sekino Tadashi. Kokuri koseki chosa. Tokyo: 1929–1930.

    This volume (Archaeological research on ancient Kokuri) exemplifies research conducted by Japanese teams in Northeast Asia during Occupation.

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