Traditional Chinese architecture is not only as old as Chinese civilization with 5,000 years of history but unique in the world, particularly when the roof system is concerned, both in terms of its multi-layered dougong structure – a set of interlocking wooden brackets that supports the massive roofs – and its visual style in shape, size and colour.
Below is a brief introduction to some commonly used classic Chinese roofs in residential dwellings, public buildings and garden structures.
Classic Chinese Residential Roofs
Overhanging Gable Roof
The overhanging gable roof is the most common residential roof type in the south of the Yangtze River where the climate is humid and warm. The wide eaves are designed to keep the upper parts of the timber structure from the rain.
Flush Gable Roof
The flush gable roof is the most common residential roof style used in the north of Yangtze River where the climate is relatively cold and dry.
Roof with High Firewalls
The firewalls at both ends could be of various heights and shapes. Residential buildings with this type of roof are commonly seen in windy Anhui and Zhejiang provinces in southern China.
Single Slope Roof
This type of roof is often seen on residential buildings in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces in northern China where the climate condition is quite windy and cold with heavy snowfall in winter.
Gable and Single Slope Roofs
Multi-gable roofs are commonly used on multi-storey residential buildings in Zhejiang Province in China’s humid southeast coastal region where it rains frequently.
Gable and Single Slope Roofs
This type of roof is quite common on residential buildings in southern China.
Multi-Eave Gable and Hip Roofs
Multi-eave gable and hip roofs are commonly seen on residential buildings in hot and humid southern China.
Gable Roofs for Stilt Houses
Roofs for stilt houses are usually seen in mountain areas in China’s subtropical southwest.
Traditional Chinese Roofs on Public Buildings
Gable and Hip Roof
Gable and hip roofs were traditionally used on the less important palace, government and religious buildings.
Intersecting Gable and Hip Roofs
This is a building with overlaid gable and hip roofs in a Daoist temple in Zhengding County, Hebei Province.
In the classic Chinese building code, hip roofs were reserved for public buildings of significance, such as meeting halls in royal palaces or the chief prayer hall in big temples.
Double Eave Hip Roof
Double-eave hip roofs were, in the old days, exclusively reserved for major buildings in royal palaces, such as the Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing Forbidden City.
Double Eave Hip and Flat Roof
This combination of flat and hip roofs does not appear often.
Single and Double-Eave Gable & Hip Roofs with Upswings at the Ends
This is a set of roofs on a terrace building illustrated in a Song Dynasty painting.
Multi-Leveled Single-Eave, Double-Eave and Overlaid Gable & Hip Roofs
This complicated roof set was for the ancient Tengwang Terrace Building as illustrated in a Song Dynasty painting.
Multi-Leveled Single-Eave, Double-Eave and Intersecting Gable & Hip Roofs with Upswings at the Ends
This complicated roof set was for the ancient Yellow Crane Terrace Building as illustrated in a Song Dynasty painting.
Combination of Multi-Leveled Cross Gable & Hip Roofs and Round Ridge Roofs
This set of L-shaped roofs are on the corner watchtowers of Beijing Forbidden City.
Combination of Double-Eave Hip Roof and Double-Eave Pyramid Hip Roofs Linked by Gable Roofs
This set of roofs is on Beijing Forbidden City’s Meridian Gate for the Receiving Hall, corner watchtowers and verandas.
Traditional Chinese Roofs on Garden Structures
This is the most common roof style for garden pavilions
Triangle Hip Roof
This type of roof allows the structure with three facades, normally used on a small garden pavilion built on a tiny plot of land with an awkward irregular shape.
Octagonal Hip Roof
A traditional Chinese roof with 8 facades, which could be either single or double eaves, normally used on a major pavilion structure in a big garden or a larger Buddhist pagoda.
Fan-Shaped Gable and Hip Roof with a Round Ridge
This type of roof is normally used on a waterside garden structure.
Single-Eave and Double-Eave Gable & Hip Roofs
It was used on a waterside terrace building as illustrated in a Song Dynasty painting.
Double-Eave Intersecting Gable & Hip Roofs
It is used in a garden structure.
Ancient Chinese Architectural Drawings
These are 600-year-old architectural drawings for Beijing Forbidden City produced by Ming Dynasty architects from Suzhou.