The pointed roof of a pagoda with curved edges invariably evokes associations with Chinese architecture. The exotic silhouettes of palaces and religious buildings have been stirring the imagination of foreigners trying to unravel their mysteries for hundreds of years. What explains the bizarre shapes of Chinese roofs: religious canons, a tribute to tradition, or purely pragmatic considerations?
What buildings had bowed roofs?
One should not look for roofs with upward curved edges among ordinary residential buildings. The dwellings of Chinese peasants and poor artisans were almost indistinguishable from those of the poor in other countries. They were frame structures on wooden piers.
Saman bricks, reed, or straw mats were used to fill the frame. The house was crowned by the most common gable roof covered with reeds or straw. Another type of Chinese traditional dwellings were fortress-type structures with stone or brick walls and round tile roofs.
Buildings topped with roofs with curved edges were special. In the first place, they were temples. The cannons of Chinese religious buildings were borrowed from Buddhist cultures.
In what countries were such roofs built?
Tiered pagoda temples can be found not only in China but also in Nepal, India, and Indonesia. Curved roofs crown the buildings of the Forbidden City, a palace complex that was the residence of Chinese emperors for six hundred years. This complex includes about 800 buildings decorated with paintings and intricate carvings. Curved roofs can also be seen on memorial structures (such as the Confucius Temple) and on the triumphal Pailou Gates, which were built to honor heroes, rulers, and landmark events.
Of course, in modern Chinese architecture, curved roofs are used without regard to the status of the structure. Now they adorn restaurant buildings, stores, and park buildings.
Why are the roofs curved upward?
Protection against evil spirits.
According to a long-standing Chinese belief, pointed roofs with curved edges protect the building from the penetration of evil spirits. As the Chinese believed, demons can only move in a straight line. To protect entrances to buildings from them, they would place stones near doors or hang images of labyrinths above them. But insidious evil spirits could try to get through the roof. A demon would roll down the curved roof, kick off the edge, and go to heaven. And according to feng shui, the rounded shapes of such a roof could reflect negative shi energy.
The Practical point of view
Curved roofs became popular in areas where monsoon winds dominate and periods of heavy rainfall occur regularly. Curved roofs are much better able to withstand high wind loads than conventional pitched structures. And the curved edge with a large outstretch protects the wooden walls from the damaging effects of rainwater.
The structure of the Chinese roof
Chinese roofs – complex engineering structures that differ from European roofing systems. They have no rafters resting on the load-bearing walls. The weight of the roof is distributed across the supporting pillars. The construction of such a roof required complex engineering calculations. Hundreds of years ago, this art possessed a few masters, and their services are valued highly. Therefore, the construction of many curved roofs could afford only rich temples, the imperial family, and high-ranking officials.
Expensive cost and ceramic tile cylindrical shape, which served as a roof covering. Tiles made of yellow clay were the most valued. For a long time in China, allowing the use of such tiles was only for the roofs of temples, palaces, and memorial buildings. Not-so-important buildings, which included the homes of wealthy dignitaries, roofed tiles of black clay.
Modern construction technology and roofing coatings allow you to create inexpensive imitations of Chinese roofs. Instead of classical ceramics as roofing material used is metal, asphalt shingles, or sheet copper. Most often, such roofs are used for gazebos, pavilions, and garden cottages in creating landscaped ensembles in the Eastern style.