Zhouzhuang shop building
At 900 years old, the township of Zhouzhuang is China’s best preserved water town. It is located 30km southeast of Suzhou in Kunshan city. Dubbed the “Venice of the East” the rivers and streams are spanned by 14 stone bridges constructed in the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.
There are many wonderful examples of original Chinese lattice work throughout the picturesque town. The main road leading from the new to the old town has many buildings which have lattice decoration and balustrades.
Here is another example of lattice decoration in Zhouzhuang. It’s unfortunate that the balustrade in this case is made from very Western looking turned wood staircase spindles. It spoils an otherwise charming scene.
A charming Zhouzhuang residence
A typical dwelling in Xidi
Xidi is a very beautiful village located near Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province, China. The village is over 900 years old and its white walled, black roof houses nestle within over 40 ancient winding and narrow lanes which are paved with bluestone. It is full of centuries old carvings in both wood and stone and is a must see for those interested in ancient Chinese culture.
Lattice work in a Xidi house
There are fine examples of original traditional lattice work and sublime wood carvings in many dwellings in Xidi. The picture above shows the carvings in a house several centuries old. Note the ice ray design detail in the left had door opening. The detail in the work is extraordinary.
Intricate wood carving
Building in main square of the complex
The Old Town Shanghai gives an idea of traditional Chinese architecture of days gone by. Now-a-days it is a shameless tourist trap with all the accompanying vulgarity that goes with it. You can however look beyond all the commercialism and get an appreciation of the beauty and craftsmanship that is the legacy of the Chinese. It is everything the Western mind associates with the Orient and an exciting area to visit at least once.
The use of lattice work is ubiquitous in both overhead grilles, balustrades, windows and wall decoration. Although being a bit clichéd the area is still great to explore.
The main square in the Old Town
Traditional Chinese lattice work
The Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai old town is an excellent model of classical Chinese garden architecture and has fine examples of traditional Chinese lattice. As can be seen in the photo on the right the addition of the lattice corners and overhead grills transform an otherwise barn like structure into one of considerable beauty.
With an area of over two hectares, the garden was built during the reign of the Ming Emperor Jaijing (1559) as a private garden of Pan Yunduan, an administration commissioner of Sichuan Province.
A view in the garden
The honeycombed Jade Stone Peak (Yu Ling Long) is the granite relic of Emperor Huizong (1100-26) of the Hong dynasty who procured it from Tai Hu (Lake Tai). The rough, craggy and pitted rocks carved by the currents in the lake were keenly sought after for classical Chinese garden designs to represent mountain peaks. While being transported to the Emperor, the rock was reportedly shipwrecked in the Huangpu River. There it remained until it was retrieved by Pan Yunduan and placed here across from his study. It’s peculiar shape allows water poured onto the top of the rock to spurt out from its numerous holes. It is arguably the most precious treasure in the garden.
The Jade Peak (Yu Ling Long)
More delicate lattice detail in the garden
Examples of ice ray designs
One of the more intriguing design groups described by Daniel Sheets Dye in his definitive work “A Grammar of Chinese Lattice” (1937) is ice ray lattice. Unlike most lattice designs ice ray lattice has no horizontal or vertical line elements. This makes it most effective as a grille or screen where people don’t want to feel like they are in a cage which can happen with horizontal or vertical bars.
Origins of the ice ray design
“To appreciate the designs in this division, one needs to see ice forming on quiet water on a cold night. Straight lines meet longer lines, making unique and beautiful patterns. The Chinese term this ice line, or lines formed by cracking ice; I have described it as the result of molecular strain in shrinking or breaking, but more recent observations and photographs seem to prove that it is a conventionalisation of ice-formation which has become traditional”
(Dye, “A Grammar of Chinese Lattice” 1949 pp298).
Ice forming on a pond
In his 1977 paper, “Ice-ray : A note on the generation of Chinese lattice designs” Stiny did the first analytic exercise with shape grammars which he had invented with Gips in 1976. The grammar he laid out in this paper set the standards for all shape grammars that followed. Shape grammar is beyond the scope of this blog and the reader is encouraged to further research elsewhere if so inclined. I confine myself to the aesthetic aspect of the design and its application as decorative grilles and security screens.
Ice ray design on sedan chair in Jing Hai Hall, Xidi
Small screen using the ice ray design
Circular ice ray window in the Lingering Garden, Suzhou
The ice ray lattice design is readily adapted to contemporary decor and gives a refreshing relief from vertical bars when used as a security grille. Circular ice ray designs are also interesting and can make fine features on otherwise bland walls.
Here is a nice example of Chinese lattice grilles being used in a security door. An otherwise bland stainless steel security door has been made interesting with the inclusion of a couple of lattice grilles. These still afford security while allowing ventilation and removing the need for a peep hole in the security door!
Stainless steel security door with lattice grilles
Detail of the lattice grille