Poster of Wang Qijun's A hut in the Zone of Human Habitation

In this essay, I would like to discuss the picturesque scene of the Jiangnan residential with the aspect of the facade along a river, the side facade of the building, and the dense relationship and contrast between the roofs and walls.

Elements of Façade

The facades of the water town of the south of Yangtze River were divided into individual units, including: roofs, eaves, the walls with windows, the wooden partitions without windows, the solid wall without windows, the windows of the side façade, Tiaogui/cabinets, doors, Meirenkao/ high back chair, stone bases, and a private pier, etc.

Constituting Mode

The façade of riverside town at Jiangnan is created by an organic combination of various elements in accordance with the principles of reasonable function.

Aesthetic Principles

Refers to the composition of the facade, the links and contrasts between the various elements.

Laws of Composition

Jiangnan residential is an artwork itself, perfect, harmonious, and unified, itself creating a conflict-free world. It is in need of a form of composition on three levels to reach harmony and a conflict-free situation. These three dimensions are the constituting mode, the elements of facade and aesthetic principles.

Grid Illustration

Most of the Jiangnan residential uses a mode of façade illustration, rectangular grid as the modulus. The distances between lines are equal, the horizontal and vertical lines intersect at right angles. Sometimes the distances between the lines may not be exactly equal, but certainly there are rules. It is an important feature of the grid illustration that different elements of the residential appear in the rectangular grids in the form of the surface, so we can also use the surface to analyze the law of composition of rectangular grids, including the line.

Wang Qijun, "Jiangnan Riverside Town"

Wang Qijun, “Jiangnan Riverside Town”

Different from official buildings, many elements of the Jiangnan residential facade composition often appears in an asymmetric manner, although some elements will be repeated, which is called “tautology”, but these repeated elements tend to appear in the homogeneous arrangement, instead of in the symmetrical form.

A rectangular grid often gives people the feeling of monotony, the reason why the Jiangnan water town residential formed a picturesque scene, is due to the complicated composition concept. If you have a detailed analysis, you would find that the elements constituting the Jiangnan residential facade, are usually the modulus which is similar to the square, as the basic unit, rather than the square. In fact, analyzing the Jiangnan residential space as the modulus, we can sum it up as the cube modulus, but this article is to explore the picturesque scene of the Jiangnan residential, therefore, it is not an in-depth analysis about the relationship of the modulus between the plastic of the Jiangnan residential and the space. Filled into the various constituent elements, rectangular grid of Jiangnan residential facade is regarded as a kind of graph. In the book “Classical Architecture: Poetics in the Order” ⑬, jointly written by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivne, the author described the architecture with the view in chapter VII of “Poetics” by Aristotle. An artwork is a small world in a grand environment, perfect, harmony, unity and without any conflict. However, to achieve harmony, it should be constituted by three levels of forms. Aristotle thought that the first level is the method and style, which is the reasonable arrangement for different parts of the objects. … the method and style is that a house is divided into several sections, interpreted as architectural elements, composed of a variety of harmonious works. In other words, there are permutations and combinations of architectural elements, to form an architectural space which fits the logical split, which is the method and style. ⑭

In the classical architecture, the composition model of three diagrams perform on the architectural plane, facade and section. Moreover, in the further design, it can also be applied to a smaller part of the design. The model of three diagrams created an interrelated, mesh rules with an interleaving mode. From the associations between the whole and its parts, and between the parts. But, as German architect Rudolf Chomsky said the Jiangnan residential was the “Architecture without Architect”, which was different from the Western classical concept of architecture or design. The masters of Jiangnan residential are ordinary people living in a town or water village farmers. Their architectural concept is to create a fully functional residential which is next to the front street and followed by the river based on the limited homestead. Under this concept, the Jiangnan residential purely pursues these functions. And it is the guidance of this design and thinking that generate the flexible, changeable, and asymmetrical facade composition of the river.

The reason why people have a feeling of artistic concept with the painting, is that some constituent elements in this environment, correspond with the beauty of their minds, resonating with them. When I sketched the Jiangnan water town, I created an oil painting entitled “The Sound of Flute from Lu Bridge”, impacted by a little scene in Wuzhen of Zhejiang Province. The buildings in the painting are the waterfront houses casually created by ancestors according to the narrow terrain and styling. These buildings ignored the symmetry and were dignified, and reflected the natural and simple.

Both Eastern and Western scholars like measuring the beauty of the buildings by using the standard of poetry. Western architectural historian liked to quote the discourse about the regularity of art theory of Aristotle in the “Poetics”, “Aristotle listed the typical elements of artistic creation: color, form, rhythm, harmony, language, and etc.”, these principles “are the same for all kinds of arts in a certain sense”.

“We are told to study the ‘intrinsic principle’ of each element, understanding ‘the appropriate law existing in every thing to make it better’”. “Various elements and their respective reasons are combined together to form a set of fundamental principles.” “Architectural Theory • I • Vitruvian’s Fallacy – History of the Categories of Architecture and Philosophy” ⑮ had expressed this view in detail. When analyzing again the facade composition of Jiangnan residential with the buildings in the painting, we would understand that the external presentation of the different elements are indeed related to its functions. Roof: The roofs of the Jiangnan residential are level, seen from the facade, the back facade and side façade, they are in a straight line, instead of a concave arc, etc. These roofs are easily constructed.

Waist eave: They are horizontal rectangular roofs, consistent with the roofs, seen from any angle, there is no concave arc, the design concept is consistent with the roofs.

High side window: Located on the roof, the high side windows are similar to the dormer windows, the installation for the lighting and ventilation functions, are set in order to take full advantage of the roof part.

Tiaodou: Viewing from the outside facade, it is a tiaodou, while from the interior, it is a closet, and in order to save space, it overhangs.

Window: Most of the underlying on the waterfront side of the Jiangnan residential are kitchens, and upstairs are bedrooms, not the place for the reception of guests or customers, therefore most of the windows are horizontal, and generally without complicated decorative window lattice grids, in order to save costs.

Door: Most of the waterfront doors are of one door, and usually have half of the dwarf waist door, of railing style, for daily indoor ventilation, while guaranteeing safety.

Railing: Railings are divided into two forms of ordinary wooden railing and Meirenzuo/ Beauty seat, depending on the requirement of the owner.

Private Pier: The waterway was the main mode of transport in the past. The house is of large freight built on a private pier.

Diaojiaolou: In the case of an insufficient homestead, it’s a method for striving for greater interior space by extending onto the surface of the water. All the elements above are integrated together, to constitute the facade composition of Jiangnan water town residential along the river.

Wang Qijun, “The Very Jiangnan District”

Wang Qijun, “The Very Jiangnan District”

In the actual creative activities, on the one hand, people consider the functional requirements of the above-mentioned building, on the other hand they consider the harmony with the adjacent architectural styles, the combination following this mature compositional mode. My works “Safety Corner”, sketched at Zhou Zhuang in Wujiang County of Suzhou, clearly reflects the unifying principle of a coordinated style of the traditional residential. As we know, the residential in the large area of the southern Jiangsu Province and northern Zhejiang Province, has maintained this pattern, forming a tradition, which has maintained the continuation of the “artistic concept of painting”.

In addition to the above mentioned, the façade along the river are of rational combinations based on aesthetic composition, and contrast with the density between the concise side façade of Jiangnan residential and the other parts that have been created, this has played a very important role in the constituent of the artistic concept of the Jiangnan residential.

The contrast of the density of relationships of the Jiangnan buildings along the river is good in itself.

Analyzing the external plastic of the building, this dense relationship is mainly created by the contrasts between the white solid walls and gray roofs, as well as complex facades along the river. The side façade of the residential are large areas of solid walls, rare windows, simplicity and silence.

Although the center of the composition of the painting “Sound of the Scull Came from the Other Side of the Bridge” is two bridges, but in fact, the side facades of the residential buildings create the sense of rhythm. Although the side elevation of the building doesn’t account for a large area of the composition, it plays an important role in the finishing touch.

The law of opposites and the unified aspects are the reasons that create an artistic concept in the painting, “so narrow that wind could not go through, so broad that a horse could go through” is the very description for this dense relationship, which is a means of disposing a Chinese painting, arbitrarily placing the figures on a blank screen. For which, it is difficult to declare whether a figure is placed in the space, or the space has a figure. Figure and space are dissolved into a combination, of real endless spirit resonance. The large area of the white walls of the side elevation of Jiangnan residential, like the blank canvas of a painting, it is not a vacuum in the entire artistic concept of the painting, instead with the exchange of the cosmic aura, and the flow of the charm. Da Chongguang said, “The blank space and objects mutually support each other, the blank places create wonderful an artistic concept.” 16. The artistic concept of the painting of Jiangnan residential appears mainly because of the implication of the outside solidness and the inside peace of the building itself. The use of a large area of solid colour in the Chinese traditional building wall is common, in addition to the substantial function such as fireproofing and burglar proofing, and etc., peace is the significance that a concise symbolic form bears. The solid wall creates its individual isolated space, formation of the charm of an outside solidness and inside peace. The thick and steady wall separates the noise of the crying, selling from the bustling street market, and leaving the indoor tranquility.

The dense relationship created by the contrasts between the solid walls with tiled roofs, doors and windows, formation of the blank canvas and activity, the opposed factors of the painting, the images created which, blended together everywhere in the picture, produce a vacant flowing rhythm. The blank screen is no longer the base for placing things, but the vacant “way” dissolved in all things on earth. In the vast space, the walls of the residential reflect the deep silence, constituting an ethereal floating sentimental mood.

What is the best angle to enjoy the elements of Jiangnan residential for the most intense visual effects? In addition to the appreciation from another side of the river, considering the surface of the water at close-range, the best angle is often from looking down from a height. The painting “Return with the Sunset” will set the viewer’s perspective on a bridge.

Overlooking the Jiangnan residential from a height, it is easier to appreciate the characteristics of the painting artistic concept. Overlooking is favoured by ancient Chinese painters and literati. “From the high buildings we can overlook the distance, feeling physically and mentally relaxed.” 17. Looked from a height, the roofs are row upon row, and vacuous of health from the white walls, which is the appreciation angle the most stimulating human emotion.

The principle of three perspectives of Chinese painting is associated with people’s favorite overlooking position. Hiking and near the water, the painters “overlook the wind and water” 18, “viewing around and overlooking the top of the clouds” 19, “overlooking the green suburbs along the river and a familiar road” 20, “proudly overlooking cliffs” 21. “Overlooking” not only contacted the up and down, the close and distant, but also of the magnanimity that holds everything.

Once the literati climbed, they must write poetry. It is easy to experience the artistic concept of the painting of Jiangnan residential from a height, because when people create a bridge over the water town, desiring to facilitate the traffic of ships sailing in the water, the bridge was built taller than a building, so, without a castle, people could overlook the town crossing the bridge every time, which is splendid. Therefore, the artistic concept of the painting of Jiangnan residential could be the main source to inspire the imagination and emotion of the painters.

In fact, each art form has a sense of space and shows the connection between them when they are mutually transferred. The painting of the Western neoclassical style is the awareness of building space which is prone to sculpture, while the spatial awareness of the Chinese painting emphasizes an unique spatial implication in the Chinese traditional buildings

Traditional Chinese residential has a long history, where the ancient painters lived.


13 Classical Architecture —- The Poetics of of Order, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published in 1986, ISBN 0-262-70031

14 In the poetics of Aristotle, as we have already observed, the work of art is a world within the world, “complate,” “integral,” “Whole,” a world where there is no contradiction.

Noncontradiction is ensured through the functioning of three levels of formal organization. The first is what Aristotle called taxis, the orderly arrangement of parts [poetics, bk, VII, para.35]. It will be dealt with here … Taxis divides a building into parts and fits into the resulting partitions the architectural elements, producing a coherent work. In other word, taxis constrains the placing of the architectural elements that populate a building by establishing successions of logically organized divisions of space.15 “Architectural Theory • I • Vitruvian’s Fallacy – History of the Categories of Architecture and Philosophy”, [British] David Smith Capone, translation: Wang Guixiang, Chinese Building Industry Press, 2007, 191.

16 “Hua Quan”, [Qing Dynasty] Da Chongguang, note: Wu Silei, Sichuan People’s Publishing House, 1982, the 13th phase.

17 Su Dongpo, “Juyuan Building”

18 Du Fu’s “Yusanshou”19 Du Fu’s “View at the Jinhuashanguan/ Jinhua Mountain Taoist Temple in the Winter”

20 Du Fu’s “Tangcheng”21 Du Fu’s “Thirty Poems for the Building of Cui Shijiu, Officer of Baishui Couty”

The end.

Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

This article was published in “Art Research”.

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