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#33304 - 12/01/15 01:36 AM Copying Chinese windows "by eye" (& Yingzao Fashi)
AJGibson Offline
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Registered: 10/03/15
Posts: 12
Question: If you're working from pictures or illustrations and do not have accurate 'blueprints', how do you do it? Are there any tricks or techniques for reproducing a design by eye? In particular, how do you accurately capture proportions? Is it all just experience and guesswork?

For example, there are many designs in traditional Chinese construction that I just love, including many of the patterns on doors, windows and balustrades. But, not speaking Chinese, and not living within a convenient distance of a genuine Chinese temple, I have to rely on the Google Image:

(Some windows from a garden in Suzhou, the Zhuo Zheng Yuan)



Playing around, I was luckily able to figure out this first window by dividing a square up into 4x4 smaller squares and then cutting out a series of circles and ovals, although I'm still not sure if the proportions are right. (If you look closely at the image, you can see the circles and ovals; the blue glass is what's left. Compare with the next window, also found in the same garden.)



This gave a systematic and simple recipe for (mostly) reproducing the window design. Nifty.



This more box-like design has resisted analysis. I have an attempt in the right direction, but the proportions are definitely off; their inner panel is rectangular whereas mine is square, and I'm not sure "how" rectangular it is (i.e. the ratio of the sides.)

I would especially love to be able to decode the illustrations I've found in the old Yingzao Fashi, even if only approximately



Edited by AJGibson (12/01/15 01:50 AM)

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#33305 - 12/01/15 02:06 AM Re: Copying Chinese windows "by eye" (& Yingzao Fashi) [Re: AJGibson]
AJGibson Offline
Member

Registered: 10/03/15
Posts: 12
Better image from the Yingzao Fashi:



Anyone have any idea what the proportions are of the spans between the posts? I'm especially interested in the relation between the veranda (the outside-most posts) and the rest. Clearly, it goes: small, medium, large, medium, small. But in what ratios?...

Wouldn't you agree that most of the "aesthetic" of a building or a design comes down to proportions? But it seems so hard to estimate them.

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#33306 - 12/01/15 09:18 AM Re: Copying Chinese windows "by eye" (& Yingzao Fashi) [Re: AJGibson]
timberwrestler Online   content
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Registered: 11/07/05
Posts: 268
Loc: Becket, MA
AJ,

Cool stuff. There are books that cover the proportions of Chinese buildings, but I don't know of any translations. There are some books on Japanese proportioning in English. There are a few articles on Chinese framing in Timber Framing.

Best bet is probably to talk some people who know this stuff. Jan Lewandowski has some done some work with Chinese buildings (the compound at the Peabody Essex Museum). Peter Weschler has doen Korean and Japanese buildings, but he may know the Chinese as well. Richard Wiborg has done work on Chinese buildings. Chris Hall knows Japanese building better than anyone around. All Guild people.
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#33307 - 12/01/15 01:20 PM Re: Copying Chinese windows "by eye" (& Yingzao Fashi) [Re: AJGibson]
Jay White Cloud Offline
Member

Registered: 11/06/08
Posts: 479
Loc: Vermont
(Hi Brad...I posted this before I saw your post...sorry to have repeated stuff! Cheers)

Great to read this AJ!!!

I will do my best to be helpful, and its awesome to connect with another "Asian Architecture" enthusiast.

Quote:
Question: If you're working from pictures or illustrations and do not have accurate 'blueprints', how do you do it?


Well of course the obvious grin is going there and looking at it, then finding some folks that are doing it...but the next best thing is learning to use "technology" (and before that lots!!! of translation dictionaries)as you read and do "proper research" in Chinese itself. In time you learn bits of the language (we sponsor Chinese exchange students, and that is a resource as well as any Colleges "Asian Studies" department have folks that will help. Go meet folks that read, write and speak Chinese.. wink We have a few TFG members that have access to such info also...

I have a passion for all the different forms from Turkey to Japan, and over the last 35 years have gotten to learn a great deal of these many vernacular styles...especially in the "folk classes" which is my primary focus. From Turkish Mountain houses to Kath Kuni in western India into China and on, they are all brilliant. When we get into Korea's "Hanok" and Japanese "Minka," we really get to see all the broad connections of these many distinct styles going all the way back into the African timber framing styles.

I would also suggest (if you can) getting to the Yin Yu Tang exhibit at PEM.

Quote:
Are there any tricks or techniques for reproducing a design by eye? In particular, how do you accurately capture proportions? Is it all just experience and guesswork?


It's possible to "get the flavor" of it in the work we do, and often this is enough, because we are adding a bit or ourselves to the work anyway. As for "proportions" the Asian cultures in general follow the "golden section" and its related "ancient/spiritual" geometries. Use these and you won't go wrong.

However, to actually capture the "soul of the craft" there is much study, examination and reading/discussing that is necessary....

Quote:
I have to rely on the Google Image:


That can take you a long way!!

If you start doing your "image searches" in actual Chinese "Hanzi" (Korean "Hanja," Japanese "Kanji," etc.) you will find so much more accurate information...and...probably what you are really looking for.

It's not really possible to get the "good stuff" while using English.

Quote:
I would especially love to be able to decode the illustrations I've found in the old Yingzao Fashi, even if only approximately


I am working on several "translation" now with one of my friends/students including this text. However, my focus on "folk vernacular styles" in earth, stone and timber work is a slow process when you add several other languages as well.

I think there is an "english translation" already for the Yingzao Fashi, but I can't remember at which University I found it...???

Feel free to email me anytime!!

Regards,

j


Edited by Jay White Cloud (12/01/15 01:23 PM)
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#33308 - 12/01/15 05:18 PM Re: Copying Chinese windows "by eye" (& Yingzao Fashi) [Re: AJGibson]
AJGibson Offline
Member

Registered: 10/03/15
Posts: 12
Thanks so much guys smile

Jay, I think if I'm ever able to arrange a trip to China, it will have to include several gardens and old buildings, and my girlfriend will probably rue the day tape-measures were ever invented. (I can just see it now: "Andy, stop measuring and rejoin the tour group, you're embarrassing me." "But dear..." "I don't know this man.")

That Yin Yu Tang exhibit looks stunning. I haven't been to MA in ages but will have to remember it next time I'm in the area. Maybe there are others closer to where I live (Memphis), I'll have to check around. We have a wonderful Asian garden here at the Botanic Gardens that I've been to several times, to enjoy and study it, but I'm not aware of many traditional buildings.

I'll also start trying to pick up some basic Chinese phrases and characters. Please let me know if you and your student have any translated materials you could shoot my way, I would love to read them. (Actually, if you have any copies of the Yingzao Fashi, translated or not, that would be a great help, as well; I've only been able to find parts.)

One of the (many) things I'm trying to learn right now is Asian roofing, and in particular, the deep eaves and verandas that so often come with them. When combined with balustrades and posts, they create such a wonderful frame for viewing the natural scenery beyond, e.g.:





But I find it very difficult to figure out (and reproduce in SketchUp) the actual dimensions necessary to achieve this effect, just from images alone: my posts and balustrades are too thick and visually "heavy" and pull one's eye from the view instead of just demarcating the viewing plane, my eaves are not deep enough and leave the top of the viewing frame "open", the roof of my veranda is too low and does not create that dark, deep-set cozy feeling from which to look out into nature, etc.

Hence the need for building manuals like the Yingzao Fashi. They really did know their stuff, I'm so glad there are efforts to preserve all that knowledge. And I've read that they developed a system of units for measurement and standardized ratios of this length to that length for many of these pieces, I just can't seem to find the specifics.

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#33309 - 12/01/15 06:00 PM Re: Copying Chinese windows "by eye" (& Yingzao Fashi) [Re: AJGibson]
AJGibson Offline
Member

Registered: 10/03/15
Posts: 12
I'm finding a lot of books in this forum like "The Complete Japanese Joinery," think I'll start there. Thanks again guys, love this place.

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#33310 - 12/01/15 08:04 PM Re: Copying Chinese windows "by eye" (& Yingzao Fashi) [Re: AJGibson]
Jay White Cloud Offline
Member

Registered: 11/06/08
Posts: 479
Loc: Vermont
One thing that may help is that much of the world of architecture (good architecture that is...) now and in the past is based on the "golden section" and other natural geometries.

Further, the "Asian Foot" (be it Japanese, Korean, Chinese etc) is very similar (~98%) the same as the imperial foot...give or take a "millimetre" here or there...and that is the "next hint!"
There foot is not based on units of "12" but units of "10" (or 8ths in some regions) As such switching to metric was easy for them and that is the scale today use often and/or there work translates into much easier. I have worked in metric for so many decades now I could never go back. That alone may assist you in getting a better handle on all this.

I would also share, in many istances, (especially folk styles) "tape measures" and other related "measuring tools" are often either "self created" and/or not really used...

I didn't touch a tape measure for the first ten years of working wood, but "scale" based on the geometry and design of what I was trying to create or emulate using "story pole," template and "line layout" modalities...

Let us know if we can do more...

Regards,

j
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#33312 - 12/02/15 10:51 AM Re: Copying Chinese windows "by eye" (& Yingzao Fashi) [Re: AJGibson]
timberwrestler Online   content
Member

Registered: 11/07/05
Posts: 268
Loc: Becket, MA
Check out 'Measure and Construction of the Japanese House.' It's not Chinese, but I'm sure it's close if not right on with the Chinese proportions.
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#33313 - 12/03/15 07:01 AM Re: Copying Chinese windows "by eye" (& Yingzao Fashi) [Re: AJGibson]
D Wagstaff Offline
Member

Registered: 02/17/12
Posts: 246
Here is a "trick" for transpiring proportions where the aspects are unknown. Take a dominant feature from a representation of the object and trace the length of it onto a piece of paper. Assign that stripe its value which could be an estimate of the actual object but doesn't have to be, 1.5 meter for example. It's a simple matter then of halving that length and in turn halving all consequent subdivisions until you have a number of elements for making comparisons all derived from the original measure and so proportional.

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