This article was originally published on Common Edge as "Why Don’t We Teach Chinese Architecture?" How many U.S. architecture professors know that there is a Chinese treatise equivalent to Vitruvius’ Ten Books of Architecture? Very few, I suspect. I taught architectural history for more than 20 years before I discovered the marvelous Yingsao Fashi, a Song Dynasty book by a prominent court official who, as far as we know, was not an architect or builder. In fact, prior to the Ming Dynasty no prominent temple, palace, or shrine in China was designed by an architect because the concept of a single mastermind in charge of a building project was foreign to the East Asian way of designing environments of any kind. Though architectural history courses and texts now feature prehistoric, native, and non-Western architecture, as a rule, time spent on the rich, longstanding tradition of East Asian building arts is scant in undergraduate curricula. As our society reevaluates its reliance on so many white, Western, and elitist assumptions about culture, it is no longer acceptable to ignore one of the most important artistic contributions of the world’s largest nation, and many surrounding countries that followed its lead in timber building, for centuries, persisting even today. Nor is it beneficial to students who must adapt historic buildings for modern uses to be ignorant of beautiful, earthquake-proof structures that have stood through every kind of weather event with only minor maintenance—buildings constructed without nails, bricks, or glass windows.
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