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The ancient residential houses of Zhouzhuang

(chinadaily.com.cn)

The ancient residential houses of Zhouzhuang

Zhouzhuang is a town in Jiangsu Province, China. It is located within Kunshan, a county-level city 30km southeast of Suzhou. Zhouzhuang is one of the most famous water townships in China, noted for its profound cultural background, well preserved ancient residential houses and elegant water views. The residential houses of Zhouzhuang are typical in Jiang Nan, the region south of the Yangtze River.

The ancient residential houses of Zhouzhuang

Jiang Nan residential houses have a similar layout arrangement to siheyuans, a type of quadrangle courtyard home common in northern China. Unlike siheyuans, Jiang Nan homes contain much tighter buildings and smaller yards because of the limited arable land and dense population in the region. The small yard is used for lighting and drainage. Since all the rain flows down the inner roof into the small central yard, the layout of Jiang Nan homes are often referred to as “all water into the hall”.

The ancient residential houses of Zhouzhuang

The basic unit of an “all water into the hall” house is jian, which is a type of small room. The number of the rooms in a house should be an odd number, usually three or five. Each individual house is connected by corridors to form a closed courtyard with courtyard walls. For open circulation, there are grilles in the courtyard walls and windows in the front and rear of the home. The “all water into the hall” house adapts to local landforms and hypsography and makes full use of the space, aiming to create a free and pleasant architectural style.

The ancient residential houses of Zhouzhuang

Unlike northern houses, which have brighter colors (red and green) and colorful paintings, Jiang Nan houses have a unique sense of simplicity. They contain white walls and black tiles, which represents the humbleness of the Jiang Nan people

The Jiang Nan residential house can trace its history to Hemudu culture (5000 - 4000 B.C.). Since its birth in the Shang Dynasty (1766 - 1122 B.C.), construction of residential houses has developed over time and been affected by local culture.

The unique architectural style of Jiang Nan residential houses has been influenced by many factors:

1. The hot and wet climate in southern China affects the architecture. For example, high walls and windows can provide better ventilation. Also, the two-story buildings utilize brick materials downstairs and wood construction upstairs in order to protect against moisture.

2. The complex and uneven landforms of southern China allow only small courtyards and require flexible forms of housing combinations in order to fit the local geography.

3. The frontispiece walls of homes in southern China are shaped as horse heads and are used for both decorative design and to prevent fire.

4. The climate in Jiang Nan is mild, which allows red blossoms and green willows to grow all year round. The white walls of residential houses reflect the sunshine and make the environment colorful and bright. The houses in Jiang Nan look quietly elegant due to their white walls and black tiles. Their design and color are especially refreshing during the summer.

5. One major geographic characteristic that distinguishes Jiang Nan from northern China is the abundance of water resources. Precipitation, lakes, rivers, and canals influence all aspects of residential houses in Jiang Nan. The ancient town of Zhouzhuang

The old canals of Zhouzhuang

A guailou or “weird building” in Zhouzhuang

The elegant water views