Traditional movement system & courtyard in China

26 11 2010

Traditional movement system & courtyard in China

by Wang Jing

In the article “Design history of China’s gated cities and neighborhoods: Prototype and evolution”, Urban Design International of the Urban Design Seminar module, they mentioned a lot of the traditional courtyard in China. As extension, I did some research about the traditional courtyard in China. The traditional urban space could be divided into: Road, street, lane, lane by the logic of space character from the public to private.

As a result, I find some very interesting logic in the compare of the courtyard from northern China to southern China:

1. From south to north, the proportion of the streets decline and the proportion of the lanes increase.

2. From south to north, the density of the road network decrease.

3. Because of the capital cities always in the north China, the stringent feudal social hierarchy influenced the courtyard spaces in north profoundly. The form of the courtyard in south china is much freer, and shows the poetic environment design, for example the traditional gardens in Suzhou.

These differences from north to south may have the same original driving power of the development of the gated cities. That is the political economy. I hope this could help us to understand the artical better…….




2 responses

29 12 2010
Carlie Douglas

After having read the article on the development of gated neighbourhoods in China, this additional research is very interesting. It certainly seems to fit right in with the research presented in the article. What I find most interesting, though, is the street proportions from south to north. I would think that as daylight decreased the size of the streets would increase to allow more light into the buildings. It makes sense to me that the closer to the feudal centre of power, the more rigid the city design. I assume this would be because of the need to establish dominance and it would allow military control of the towns. Very good research and observations.

30 12 2010

The first observation made, that is ‘from south to north, the proportion of the streets decline and the proportion of the lanes increase’, is very important not only for China but also for Europe. In the article “Design history of China’s gated cities and neighborhoods: Prototype and evolution”, the Chinese traditional building–space relationship of a housing layout is described as ‘inclining to internalize the open space with walls and buildings around it’ and is said to contrast with the ‘openness and accessibility of a typical western house standing in a yard or garden’.

At this point, it is essential to differentiate between north and south European tradition. If one looks at the classical Greek house plan ( and the Roman Domus (, we realize that in the Mediterranean tradition the courtyard is the main feature of the housing layout.

In Malta, the Roman Domus sits outside the walls of Mdina, Malta’s old capital. Mdina had been inhabited since time immemorial but was reorganized and fortified by the Arabs. The streets were thus arranged following the Arabic principles of introvert and humble buildings and streetscapes, with streets wide enough for two camels to pass simultaneously. Later on, the Knights of St John (which were European) built palazzos overlooking enclosed courtyards within Mdina and other locations, such as Valletta – the new capital. Although built in a grid iron plan, the palazzos in the latter were still having inscribed courtyards, rather than houses standing in a garden. Similarly, Maltese rural constructions such as the traditional farmhouse epitomize the importance of the courtyard to Maltese vernacular architecture (

It could therefore be concluded that there are similarities between traditional Chinese and Mediterranean dwelling layouts and that these similarities are based on the strong relationships between the physical environment and the lifestyle of the different communities.

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