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

Introduction

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.

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

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

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    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.

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

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

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Post-1950s Overviews, including Global Architectural Surveys

Since the mid-20th century, the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the division of Korea into North and South Korea, and the division of Mongolia into Inner and Outer Mongolia have meant that Chinese, North Korean, South Korean, and Mongolian scholars conduct their own research almost exclusively on their own national architecture. The few publications on East Asian architecture are primarily by non–East Asian researchers. The majority of works that deal with the architecture of more than one East Asian country focus on Buddhist architecture. They are listed in the section on Buddhist Architecture. Pryce 2016 is a study of timber architecture, with a long section on Japan. Chakraborty-James 2014 is an exemplary survey that covers East Asian architecture as accurately as architecture from other parts of the world.

The Modern Period

To date, no significant survey of modern East Asian architecture has been written. Galindo 2010 is the only recommended survey of modern Asian architecture. Steinhardt 1990 and Steinhardt 2007 are volumes of conference papers that present aspects of modern East Asian architecture in a global and East Asian historical context, respectively.

  • Galindo, Michelle. Asian Architecture. Salenstein, Switzerland: Braun, 2010.

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    Includes information about East and South Asian architecture.

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  • Steinhardt, Nancy S. “East Asia: Architectural History across War Zones and Political Boundaries.” In The Architectural Historian in America. Edited by Elisabeth Blair MacDougall, 177–189. Studies in the History of Art 35. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1990.

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    Paper focused on East Asia from conference at the National Gallery on global architecture.

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  • Steinhardt, Nancy S. “The East Asian Architectural Canon in the Twenty-First Century.” In Asian Art History in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Vishakha N. Desai, 15–39. Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2007.

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    Paper on scholarly studies of East Asian architecture in modern and contemporary times.

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General Discussions

General discussions of East Asian architecture are found in more general books on East Asia. A few books or articles provide general overviews of East Asian architecture, both secular and religious. Wang 1982 and Wang 1992 cover material gleaned from excavations. Bussagli 1989 is a general overview written after 1950 that covers China, Korea, and Japan. It has more information than Speiser 1965, although Speiser 1965 has superior illustrations. Hong 2006 and Hong 2012 deal with Korea and Japan. Farris 1998 and Holcombe 2001 are almost unique in their coverage of China, Korea, and Japan, but both have only one chapter focused on architecture. Iida 1953 is one of the most scholarly works and has retained its value over more than half a century. Xu 1999 attempts to accomplish the same thing, but not as successfully. The majority of general works focus on Buddhist Architecture (discussed in its own section).

Buddhist Architecture

Because Buddhism originated in India, and then moved eastward across Asia, Buddhist architecture is a subject that has encouraged authors to write about more than one East Asian country.

Monasteries

Li 2003, Li 2015, and Pichard and Lagirarde 2013 are examples of studies of monasteries across the eastern part of Asia. Other works with long sections on architecture, such as Fisher 2006 and Seckel 1989, include the other arts of Buddhism, including sculpture and painting, as well as architecture. Su 1996 is a study of another trans-Asian Buddhist structural type, the cave-temple. Jayne 1929 focuses on interior temple architecture that has been moved into a museum. Washizuka 2003 is the catalogue for an exhibition that included temple remains and sculpture from China, Korea, and Japan. Zhang 2004 is an erudite study of architectural forms present in China and Japan. The cited issue of Tōhoku Gakuin Daigoku ronshū (2006) includes papers from a conference on early East Asian Buddhist architecture.

  • Fisher, Robert E. Buddhist Art and Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 2006.

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    Even-handed, accurate study of Buddhist art that is often used as a textbook.

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  • Jayne, Horace. “Far Eastern Architecture.” Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum 24.124 (January 1929): 3–13.

    DOI: 10.2307/3794313Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Written to announce the acquisition by the museum of temple interiors from China; nearly a century later these temples ceilings and walls remain among the most important outside East Asia.

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  • Li Chongfeng. Zhong-Yin Fojiao shikusi bejiao yanjiu: Yi tamiaoku wei zhongxin. Beijing: Beijing Daxue chubanshe, 2003.

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    Similar to Li 2015, this work (Comparative research on Sino-Indian Buddhist rock-carved caves: Focused on pagodas, temples, and caves) is more focused on rock-carved architecture.

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  • Li Chongfeng. Fujiao kaogu: Cong Yindu dao Zhongguo. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2015.

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    Important work (Buddhist archaeology: From India to China) by a scholar who is as familiar with South Asian architecture as Chinese.

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  • Pichard, Pierre, and Francois Lagirarde. The Buddhist Monastery: A Cross-Cultural Survey. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, 2013.

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    Little-known book that has essays on almost every country across Asia with Buddhist architecture.

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  • Seckel, Dietrich. Buddhist Art of East Asia. Bellingham: Western Washington University Press, 1989.

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    Important and readable study of East Asian Buddhist art, with excellent section on architecture.

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  • Su Bai. Zhongguo shiku yanjiu. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1996.

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    Essays by one of China’s most eminent architectural historians of the 20th century. Includes essays on South Asian and Chinese cave-temples. (Translates as “Research on Chinese rock-carved caves.”)

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  • Tōhoku Gakuin Daigoku ronshū: Rekishi to bunka 40 (2006).

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    This issue of this journal (Discourses of Tōhoku Gakuin University: History and Culture) includes important essays from a major conference in Japan on Chinese, Korean, and Japanese architecture, primarily Buddhist, and primarily of the first three centuries of East Asian Buddhist architecture.

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  • Washizuka, Hiromitsu. Transmitting the Forms of Divinity: Early Buddhist Art from Korea and Japan. New York and London: Harry Abrams, 2003.

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    Essays published in conjunction with a major exhibition of Korean and Japanese Buddhist architecture and sculpture of the 6th through 8th centuries held at the Japan Society in 2003.

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  • Zhang Shiqing. Zhong-Ri gudai jianzhu damuzuo jishu yuanliu yu bianqian. Tianjin, China: Tianjin University Press, 2004.

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    Scholarly and highly accurate study (Origins and transformation of large-scale ancient wooden buildings in China and Japan) of the technology of Sino-Japanese wooden architecture by a major architectural historian of the 20th century.

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Stupas and Pagodas

Pagodas and stupas are a unique architectural form present in architecture across Asia (pagoda is more often used to refer to East Asian structures, and stupa more often refers to buildings in South and Southeast Asia). Combaz 1937, Sahara 1949, Sahara 1963 (updated in 1972), Franz 1978, Dallapiccola and Lallemant 1980, Shiruku Rōdogaku Kenkyū Sentā 1980, Shiruku Rōdogaku Kenkyū Sentā 2007, and Stratton 2000 are exemplary works that trace the origins and development of the form across Asia. Snodgrass 1992, the updated Snodgrass and Reynolds 2018, and Tucci and Chandra 1988 deal with the symbolism of the structure. Glauche 1995 is a very general work.

Collected Writings and Conference Proceedings

A few conferences on East Asian architecture have yielded proceedings with papers on China, Korea, and Japan. When multiple countries are included under one cover, the subject is usually a structural type such as the Buddhist monastery or pagoda. These volumes often extend beyond China, Korea, and Japan to Tibet and South Asia. Finally, a few works on global architecture have significant sections on East Asia. Only two works fit into this category, Tanaka and Taikai 2013 and Brown and Hutton 2015, the latter being a recent compilation of papers used in some surveys of Asian art in North America.

  • Brown, Rebecca, and Deborah Hutton. A Companion to Asian Art and Architecture. Chichester, UK, and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.

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    Includes several articles about architecture, but none about East Asia.

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  • Tanaka Tan, and Taikai Takane, eds. Dentō Chūgoku no teien to seikatsu kūkan: Kokusai shinpojūmu hōkokusho. Kyoto: Kyoto Daigaku Jinbun Kagaku Kenkyūjo, 2013.

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    A conference volume (Report of the International Symposium: Landscape Architecture and Living Space in the Chinese Tradition) celebrating the sixtieth birthday of one of Japan’s most eminent architectural historian of East Asia, Tanaka Tan.

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Periodicals

Periodical literature about East Asia is found in journals on the architecture of China, Korea, and Japan, and occasionally in architecture journals in European languages. European-language periodical literature on the art and architecture of Asia, South and East, also contains some of the most important research on East Asia architecture. Usually, however, the subject is the architecture of only one country. Only a few periodicals are designated as “East Asian.”

Monographs on Major Periods

Monographs form a large category. The majority deal with the Buddhist period.

Pre-Buddhist

Two authors dominate literature on this archeological period: Gina Lee Barnes and Hong Wontack. Barnes 2017, Hong 1988 (updated 1994), and Hong 2019 are their representative works. Barnes 1990 is a bibliography. They are among the few scholars who also write monographs about Korea.

Premodern Period from c. 400 Onward

The most important monographs on East Asian architecture deal with this period. All of them include information about Buddhist architecture. Steinhardt 2001, Steinhardt 2011, and Steinhardt 2014 are the most scholarly and up-to-date. Soper 1942 and Soper 1947 are seminal works of the early period of the study of East Asian architecture in the West. Barnes 1995 is a survey for an interested nonspecialist, whereas Chie 2002 is for a specialist reader. He 2013, Hu 2014, Kim 2011, and Yu 2018 are dissertations likely to become books in the future. Zhang 2006 deals primarily with China and lands to the west.

  • Barnes, Gina Lee, ed. Special Issue: Buddhist Archaeology. World Archaeology 27.2 (1995).

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    Entire issue dedicated to Buddhist architecture in South Asia, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan.

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  • Chie Goun. “Hankoku, Chugoku, Nihon no sashihijikini kansuru kenkyu (sono 1): Sashihijiki no keitai nitsuite”. Nihon kenchiku gakkai keikaku keiron bunshū 67.556 (2002): 321–326.

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    Rare study (Research on sashihijiki of Korea, China, and Japan: On the bracket-arm inserted directly into the pillar rather than into a bearing block) of this very specific feature that covers Chinese and Japanese examples.

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  • He, Liqun. “Buddhist State Monasteries in Early Medieval China and Their Impact on East Asia.” PhD diss., University of Heidelberg, 2013.

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    Dissertation focused on Buddhist architecture of the 4th–7th centuries and texts that describe it.

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  • Hu, Jun. “Domical Buildings in East Asian Architecture, ca. 200–750.” PhD diss., Princeton University, 2014.

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    Study of ceiling design in wooden buildings as well as cave temples.

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  • Kim, Young Jae. “Architectural Representation of the Pure Land: Constructing the Cosmopolitan Temple Complex from Nagarjunakonda to Bulguksa.” PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2011.

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    Study of two- and three-dimensional Pure Land building complexes in South Asia, China, and Korea.

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  • Soper, Alexander. The Evolution of Buddhist Architecture in Japan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1942.

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    Study of Buddhist architecture in Japan that is introduced by study of Chinese architecture. Material still valuable even though study is seventy-five years old.

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  • Soper, Alexander. “The Dome of Heaven in Asia.” Art Bulletin 29.4 (1947): 225–248.

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    Seminal study that explores domed ceilings from the Aegean to Japan, including possible origins of the dome in Greek or earlier architecture; written before most Han ceilings known today were known.

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  • Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman. “From Koguryŏ to Gansu and Xinjiang: Funerary and Worship Space in North Asia, 4th–7th Centuries.” In Between Han and Tang. Vol. 2, Cultural and Artistic Interaction in a Transformative Period. Edited by Wu Hung, 153–203. Beijing: Wenwu Press, 2001.

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    Study of architecture across East Asia from 4th–7th centuries.

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  • Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman. “The Sixth Century in East Asian Architecture.” Ars Orientalis 41 (2011): 27–71.

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    Scholarly study of architecture in China, Korea, and Japan in one of the centuries of most active interchange among them.

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  • Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman. Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, 200–600. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014.

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    Most comprehensive study of these four hundred years of architecture in China, Korea, and Japan.

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  • Yu, Lina. “Comparative Study of Buddhist Temples between Japan and China through the Historical Transition of the Rotating Sutra-case Cabinet.” PhD diss., Waseda University, 2018.

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    Study of Chinese and Japanese architecture focused on sutra cabinets.

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  • Zhang Qingjie. 4th–6th shiji de Bei Zhongguo yu Ou Ya dalu. Beijing: Kexue Press, 2006.

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    In this volume (North China and Eurasia in the 4th–6th Centuries), the author discusses art and architecture in East Asia and beyond during the 4th–6th centuries.

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Urbanism

Four representative books on East Asian cities—Lo and Marcotullio 2001, Yuen and Yeh 2011, Bracken 2015, and Cheshmehzangi and Butters 2018—all focus on contemporary issues. All also include material beyond East Asia.

Gardens

Only one book is about Asian gardens, Turner 2011, even though many studies of Japanese gardens include introductory material about Chinese gardens.

  • Turner, Tom. Asian Gardens: History, Beliefs, and Design. London: Routledge, 2011.

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    Recommended as a survey of gardens across East Asia, but useful information also is found in works about gardens of individual East Asian countries.

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Vernacular

Izikowitz and Sorensen 1982 comprises a set of essays on vernacular architecture in East and Southeast Asia.

  • Izikowitz, Karl G., and Per Sorensen, eds. The House in East and Southeast Asia: Anthropological and Architectural Aspects. London: Curzon Press, 1982.

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    To date, a rare study of vernacular architecture in East Asia and beyond.

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