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Archit & Design
Storeyed Building (lou)

Storeyed Building (lou)


In China, a lou refer to any building of two or more storeys with a horizontal main ridge. The erection of such buildings began a long time ago in the Period of the Warring States (475-221 B. C.), when chonglou ("layered houses") was mentioned in historical records. Ancient buildings with more than one storey were meant for a variety of uses. The smaller two-storeyed buildings of private homes generally have the owner"s study or bedrooms and upstairs. The more magnificent ones built in parks or at scenic spots were belvederes from which to enjoy the distant scenery. In this case, it is sometimes translated as a "tower". A Tang Dynasty poet upon his visit to a famous riverside tower composed a poem, two lines of which are still frequently quoted "To look far into the distance, go up yet one more storey".

Ancient cities had bell and drum towers (zhonglou and gulou), usually palatial buildings with four-sloped, double-caved, glazed roofs, all-around verandas and coloured and carved dougong brackets supporting the overhanging eaves. They housed a big bell or a drum which were used to announce time, and the local officials would open the city gates at the toll of the bell early in the morning and close them with the strike of the drum in the evening. Bells and drums were musical instruments in ancient China. Later they were used to tell time and became watches for the officials and common people as well. The Bell and Drum towers were the center of time telling during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Gulou, the drum tower of Beijing, is situated at the northern end of the central axis of the Inner City. Located to the south of the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower overlooks the busy Drum Tower Street, with a platform below and a two-storied, three-eave building on the upper level. The Drum Tower is horizontal and long in form, larger in size and elegant in style, presenting a sharp contrast to the Bell Tower which is small, vertical, plain and neat. The Drum tower is a two-story building made of wood with a height of 47 meters. In ancient times the upper story of the building housed 24 drums, of which only one survives. Originally built for musical reasons it was later used to announce the time and is now a tourist attraction.

Zhonglou, the bell tower of Beijing, stands closely behind the drum tower with a 33-meter-high edifice with gray walls and a green glazed roof. A tower containing one or more bells, typically part of a church is a bell tower; attached to a city hall or other civil building, it is usually named belfry. The Bell Tower in the city also plays a very big role in landscape. The existing Bell Tower of Beijing in the northern part of the city was built in the 18th year (1420) of the reign of Ming Emperor Chengzu. The Bell Tower was built entirely with bricks and stones. Under it is a square, towering brick platform, encircled by stone balustrades. A single-storied bell drum, which is the largest ever in China, was erected on the platform. The Drum Tower was built in 1272 during the reign of Kublai Khan, at which time it stood at the very heart of the Yuan capital Khanbaliq.

In ancient times, according to the old rule, the local officials would open the city gate at the toll of the bell in the morning, and close it with the strike of the drum at dawn. Although the Bell and Drum Towers have lost their function of telling time (The function was completely lost in 1924 when the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty was forced to leave the Forbidden City), you can still hear the rings of these ancient timepieces even now.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties (14th to 20th century), in front of each city gate of Beijing stood an archery tower which formed a defence fortification. Two of them can still be seen today, at Qianmen and Deshengmen gates. Also in Beijing, a "corner tower" still remains relatively intact at the south-eastern corner of the old Inner City. It is put under state protection as a cultural relic, being the only one left in the ancient capital.

The art of constructing tall buildings was already highly developed in China during ancient times. Many multiple-storeyed towers of complex structure had wholly wood frameworks fixed together with dougong brackets without the use of a single piece of metal. Yueyang Tower in Hunan and Huanghelou (Tower of the Yellow Crane) in Wuchang are masterpieces among ancient towers.


 
   
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