Thursday, February 2, 2012

Orphan: The Story of the Gazebo (II)

Post 2 of a series. In the first post, I began my look at gazebos, which strike me as a bit of an anomaly in Western architecture, an orphan in several respects. Even the word 'gazebo' seems to have no parentage. It seems that the term 'gazebo' may well originate in China, though given the past history of the mangling/corruption of various foreign loan words into English, it is likely we may never know which Chinese word was being referenced. In that preceding post I also surveyed a few of the more common approaches for framing gazebos and similar structures without a ridge which can be seen in Western buildings.

Today I was planning to look at both Japanese and Chinese framing approaches to pavilions, however the topic is ridiculously vast, so we'll stick just with China for this post.

Chinese Pavilions.

Chinese timber framing generally relies upon some variant of purlin-supported roof structure, and a central king piece which is shaped to the same polygon as the building plan, enabling the rafters to meet the center with simple plumb cuts.

Here's one example, a pair of interlocked hexagonal structures with the interior purlin ring carried by a pair of cross beams on each of the hexagonal rooms:

I found a picture of a roof framed similarly, located in Suzhou:

I'm pretty sure the framing is metal, but it follows the structural logic of a wooden frame.

Another example, by photography studio ASA:

The framing concept can be extended into additional levels:

And one more - here's the exterior:

 And an interior view of the framing:

A pentagonal plan may be similarly framed:

Pentagonal pavilions are uncommon, but I did find one Chinese example:

Considering the issue of interlocked hexagonal pavilions again, another framing solution is seen:

Here a series of concentric hexagonal beam arrangements progressively moves inward, each ring's corner parked on the mid-span of the ring outside of it. Here's SketchUp drawing from a Shanghai-based designer's site, showing such an arrangement of offset interior beams in a single structure:

I don't find the cantilevers well sorted in that design, but it conveys the idea of that approach to framing.

In another arrangement, the interior support beams are arranged reciprocally:

This idea I found spurred me into further investigation, as you'll see in a future post.

Another approach I've seen uses the hip rafter complexes in as cantilevers, the eave edge load balanced against the compression load at the interior purlin ring:

While we're at it, there are examples in China of square buildings with various polygonal arrangements of support beams inside, like this one, the Jindoudaifu Shrine:

How about another like that?:

Another one from a travel site called

 And I'll toss one more in - a pair of partially-overlapped square pavilions and one possible support beam/purlin arrangement:

I'll finish with a picture of a two-tier hexagonal plan pavilion:

 Given that many Chinese are quite superstitious, how about one more for, uh, good luck?:

That concludes this look at a few different Chinese polygonal pavilions - has it been worth your while? Please understand it is by necessity just a scratch on the surface of the topic.

Next post, we'll see what the Japanese approach might be. Thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way.


  1. It may be me being culturally insensitive to the Chinese aesthetic but I find those sharply upturned hips displeasing to the eye - almost like they are a parody of less sharply curved structures.

    Otherwise this journey into Gazebo structures is interesting.



  2. Derek, thanks for your comment, and i am with you 100% in that assessment. I have heard that the extreme, almost comical look of these structures has something to do with their cultural role. They are in some ways an antidote to bleak surroundings. I speculate...

    I'm glad the Japanese took thinks in another direction, both in terms of aesthetics and structural systems.


  3. I can't fathom all the different parts and how they relate. These roofs look complicated! It makes me dizzy to look upward into those structures.

    "the eave edge load balanced against the compression load at the interior purlin ring"

    It would help me to have a kit, like the Lincoln Logs I played with as a kid, to get a sense of the architectural system. On paper and in the busy photos it's "over my head".

  4. Tico,

    good to hear from you and you are not alone in having trouble figuring out what connects to what in these roofs. I had the same reaction myself when I first saw them but with increased familiarity and awareness, the complexity starts to break down. There are a lot of repeated elements for one thing.

    In a future post I'll show a roof I have designed in a piece by piece manner and that hopefully will be a clearer way to see what it going on.



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