Carved wooden architectural elements salvaged from traditional Chinese homes gain a new lease on life…

Chinese decorative wooden architectural carvings and supports
I have had this photo of a “Pai Lou” (牌楼) which has been sitting on my hard drive for ages. I snapped the image of this particular one, a few years back while buying salvaged wooden architectural elements, which we would then restore and create matching stands for providing them with a second life. This particular one was from northern China, likely Shanxi or Shandong provinces.  Due to Chinese export restrictions on certain types of antiques, its difficult to ship something like this abroad in its entirety, so I assume this one eventually found its way to a park, restaurant or maybe even a private home. But individual carvings are less of a problem and often find a new lease on life on someone’s mantle. On the image above, I have added some carvings we restored – can you see where each one might have originally fit into the completed puzzle?

wooden doorway from yunnan

Unlike this one (above) which comes from Yunnan province in the far southwest. Notice the difference in style?

But I often find myself explaining to people what theses wood carvings were originally used for /where they came from.  So when I came across these model images of the  traditional method of joining these brackets and supports  together, I reminded me to get these photos finally uploaded.  Known in Chinese as “dǒugǒng” (斗拱), this unique structural system of interlocking wooden brackets places emphasis on supports rather then the walls themselves and has been in use in China for centuries.

Chinese wooden architectural elements Diagram of Chinese architectural elements fitting together

The images of the wooden construction model below come from the Chinese History forum (which of course is a re-post from elsewhere). I have taken a few of them and combined them side by side with some real world examples. Fascinating how it all fits together in a splendid three dimensional puzzle of both form and function.

chinese architecture support post chinese carved wooden architectural elements

Some of these are double sided and sometimes retain traces of their original colors which one would hopefully want to preserve when restoring the carving.

chinese decorative carved panel from a traditional home

chinese wooden carvings

The full set of images of a miniature model showing how a more complex version of the system works – this particular type can be easily found by looking at any larger well known structures in China like halls and temples.

diagram of chinese traditional building brackets and bracing

For those out there assuming you can just take any old architectural elements and have a stand made for it, I offer a word of warning: each and every element is different and thus each stand or frame must be made to match and compliment the original style of the carving itself. Easier said then done and if the proportions are off the whole piece will feel clumsy and awkward.

wood sculpture from traditional chinese homeSome before and after shots of reclaimed carvings mounted on stands…

chinese traditional carving

If you want to dig in a bit more into the history of the architecture itself there are quite a number of decent books on the subject. A few suggested ones:

salvaged wooden architectural elements

Related Books & Reading

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3 Comment

  1. Hi Roger,
    Love the idea of using some of the carved elements for smaller ornaments – works really well and it’s nice to see the workmanship preserved and given a new life in this way for future generations to enjoy.
    The owner of one of the workshops we deal with in Shanghai was involved in an interesting project to move one of these homes effectively piece by piece from Shanxi and rebuild and restore it – I believe for a museum in Shanghai. I remember seeing a video of the house before they started any work and the carvings and general condition were very good. I will see if I can get some further photos of the restored house to share with you as it would be interesting to see how the project progressed.
    All the best,

  2. […] dozen different large trucks. Quite a task considering each individual piece from support beams to wood carvings to stone had to be meticulously tagged and documented in order to be reassembled off-site. Before […]

  3. Jackie Champion says:

    Were you the one who carved all of those stuff? It was cool and I find it a good idea to add these carved stuff to my collections. Asian antiques MA

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