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Fujian Tulou

12 AR 29 12 AR 16 Housing for a community of equals

Fujian Tulou (simplified Chinese: 福建土楼; traditional Chinese: 福 建土樓; pinyin: literally: "Fujian earthen structures") is a type of Chinese rural dwelling of the Hakka is in the mountainous areas in southeastern Fujian, China. They were mostly built between the 12th and the 20th centuries. A tulou is usually a large, enclosed and fortified earth building, most commonly rectangular or circular in configuration, with very thick load-bearing rammed earth walls between three and five stories high and housing up to 80 families. Smaller interior buildings are often enclosed by these huge peripheral walls which can contain halls, storehouses, wells and living areas, the whole structure resembling a small fortified city. The fortified outer structures are formed by compacting earth, mixed with stone, bamboo, wood and other readily available materials, to form walls up to 6 feet (1.8 m) thick. Branches, strips of wood and bamboo chips are often laid in the wall as additional reinforcement. The result is a well-lit, well-ventilated, windproof and earthquake-proof building that is warm in winter and cool in summer.[Tulous usually have only one main gate, guarded by 4–5inch-thick (100–130 mm) wooden doors reinforced with an outer shell of iron plate. The top level of these earth buildings has gun holes for defensive purposes.

A note on Hakka’s The Hakka people were migrants from North China, who moved southwards in the later part of the Song Dynasty (961 – 1276 AD) and were content with remoter areas. In general, they were not welcomed, and they had to build their houses in a protective way. They lived in families and clans together and developed a particular concentric form of living

Unlike other housing structures around the world with architecture illustrating social hierarchy, Fujian Tulou exhibits its unique characteristic as a model of community housing for equals. All rooms were built the same size with the same grade of material, same exterior decoration, same style of windows and doors, and there was no "penthouse" for "higher echelons"; a small family owned a vertical set from ground floor to "penthouse" floor, while a larger family would own two or three vertical sets. Tulous were usually occupied by one large family clan of several generations; some larger tulou had more than one family clan. Besides the building itself, many facilities such as water wells, ceremonial hall, bathrooms, wash rooms, and weaponry were shared property. Even the surrounding land and farmland, fruit trees etc. were shared. The residents of tulou farmed communally. This continued into the 1960s even during the people's commune period; at that time a tulou was often occupied by one commune production team. Each small family has its own private property, and every family branch enjoys its privacy behind closed doors. In the old days, the allotment of housing was based on family male branch; each son was counted as one branch. Public duties such as organization of festivals, cleaning of public areas, opening and closing of the main gate, etc., was also assigned to a family branch on a rotational basis. All branches of a family clan shared a single roof, symbolizing unity and protection under a clan; all the family houses face the central ancestral hall, symbolizing worship of ancestry and solidarity of the clan. When a clan grew, the housing expanded radially by adding another outer concentric ring, or by building another tulou close by, in a cluster. Thus, a clan stayed together. Nowadays newer housing with modern facilities is popping up in rural China. Many residents have bought more modern houses and moved out, or live in a larger town or city for better jobs. However they keep their ancestral tulou apartment homes under padlock, only returning home during festival for family reunion.

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layout of Fujian tulou followed the Chinese dwelling tradition of "closed outside, open inside" concept: an enclosure wall with living quarters around the peripheral and a common courtyard at the centre. A small building at the center with open front served as an ancestral hall for ancestry worshipping, festivals, meetings, weddings, funerals and other ceremonial functions. Ground floor plan includes circle, semicircle, oval, square, rectangle, and irregular pentagon. •The foundation of tulou building was built with paved stones on top of compacted earth ground, in two to three tiers. There is a circular drain around the top tier foundation to prevent rainwater from damaging the tulou wall.. •Stairwells are distributed evenly around the corridors, four sets of stairwells being the usual number. Each stairwell leads from ground floor to the highest floor. •Public water wells in groups of two or three are usually located at the centre court; more luxurious tulous have inhouse water well for each household in ground floor kitchen

•In most cases, the weight bearing outer wall of tulou consists of two sections, the lower section is built from cut stone blocks or river cobbles held together with a lime, sand and clay mixture to a height of about one or two metres, depending upon the regional flood water level. The compacted earth wall stacked on top of the stone section. The construction of earth wall from compacted earth mixed with sticky rice and reinforced with horizontal bamboo sticks was described first in Song dynasty building standard the Yingzao Fashi. •The walls were built inclined toward the centre, such that the natural force of gravity pushes the wall together. This inward inclination method was also used in the construction of Pagoda of Fogong Temple. The thickness of the Tulou wall decreases with height as specified in Yingzao Fashi. The bottom two storeys of tulou are solid with no window nor gun hole, windows are open only from the third to fifth storey, because rooms at the bottom storey served as family storage rooms and the upper storey's were living quarters.

The rooftops were covered with baked clay tiles, arranged radially;λ insertion technique was used at regular intervals to compensate for larger circumference at the outside.( Majority of roof tiles were laid from top to bottom, the gap caused by radial layout was compensated by small sections of tiles laid in λ shape inserts). This technique allowed the tiles to be laid radically without visible gaps, and without the use of small tiles at top, larger tiles at bottom

•The eaves usually extend about two meters, protecting the earth wall from damage by rainwater pouring from the eaves. •The wooden frame supporting the rooftop had no dugong elements common in traditional Chinese building.

•Circular corridors from 2nd to uppermost level were made of wood boards laid on horizontal wooden beams with one end inserted into the earth wall. The corridors are protected with a circle of wooden railings.

Architecture Effective strongholds for defense •From the 12th century to 19th century, armed bandits plagued southern China. The people of southern Fujian first built strongholds on top of mountains as a defence. These early strongholds later evolved into Fujian Tulou. •The thick (two metres at bottom, tapered to one metre on top) outer walls of tulous were immune to arrows and gunfire. The lower one- to two-metre section of the outer wall was sometimes built with granite blocks or large river cobbles. This granite or cobble section was immune to digging, since the outer layer of cobbles was purposely laid with the smaller ends pointing outwards—it would be futile for any attacker to dig out such cobbles. Digging a tunnel under the wall was not possible either, because the cobble section wall was extended deep down more than one metre. •The earth wall section was built with rammed earth together with lime-sand-clay mixture and reinforced with horizontal bamboo strips for lateral binding. It was solid as a castle, immune even to cannon fire. In 1934, a group of uprising peasants of Yongding County occupied a tulou to resist the assault of the army, which fired 19 cannon shots at that tulou, but made only a small dent on the outside wall.[19] •The weak link in a walled system was usually the gate. But the gate of Fujian tulou was specially designed for defense. The door frame was built from a large solid block of granite; the double doors were built with fire-resistant solid wood boards up to 13 cm thick, reinforced with thick iron armour plates. The main gate door was barred with several horizontal and vertical strong wood posts inserted into holes in the granite. To guard against an enemy destroying the front doors with fire, some doors were equipped with water tanks on top to quench fires set by the enemy. •Fujian Tulou residents used firearms for active defense, shooting at enemies from gun ports at the top level of the building. Some Fujian tulou are constructed with a circular corridor along the inside wall to facilitate the movement of armed men and ammunition.

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12th CENTURY MICRO APARTMENT COMPLEX: TULOU- multi unit Chinese building that wrote on compact, efficient living. “earthen house”- a large circular,fortess like structures that were a popular form of building from 12th-20th century There are nearly 20,000 tulous in Fujian province Tu-earth Lou-dwelling The tulou is surrounded by rice. Tea and tobacco fields Tulou-several storey high, inward looking, circular (or) square as housing for up to 800 people each Has only one entrance, and windows to outside only above the first floor Each family divided vertically between families with each disposing to 2 or 3 rooms on each floor. In contrast to the plain exterior, the interior of tulou is highly decorated. Tall structures capped with the tiled roofs. it is an outstanding example of human settlement, and a harmonious relationship with the environment

12 AR 29 12 AR 16 Japanese architects were the first to visit and write about them They are functioned even today, some of them as tourist place. Families not only share public facility, but also ancestral hall. House was divided vertical, they had to use public open-air passages ways to move from one room to another “large unified families” most of the tulous were along the wuyi mountains Fujian tulou is also called the “kejia tulou”-referring their tribe name Tulou complement the surrounding landscape, not only form & scale, but building materials and color reinforce the complete sense in mountainous soil. These forts are closed to surroundings, has overhanging eaves and windows that are narrower at bottom and widens along the top Thick wall separates outside and inside

The walls of the Fujian tulou were traditionally made of packed earth and bamboo reeds, and rose up to five stories. The base, which often had granite boulders packed into its construction to make it digproof–was up to six feet thick. The wall thinned out toward the top to reduce load and allow windows for cross vent. The massive structure made it able to withstand earthquakes and frequent bandit attacks (a big problem back in the day).

Door is the weakest point in this defense perimeter, against battering rams, their door planks were made up of thick wood and equipped with strong latches. A water channel was even provided above each door to protect it with the curtain of water, if attackers tried to set it flame

The Circular tulou

The circular tulou are something of a riddle, for apart from a few temples there are no other examples of circular buildings to be found in China. Some maintain that the shape was known in Fujian in watch towers and fortified villages, and that these have simply developed into residences. Others suggest that, they were the last stage of a long development, starting with more complex forms and consolidating into the simpler rectangle and finally evolving into the circular form. The circular form has several advantages: 1. Technically a circular form is easier to build because of the identical cross-section throughout and without the need for complex roof and wall corner construction. See also the section "Construction" 2. The circular form allows more economic use of material. Wood is more expensive to obtain, transport and work than clay. For each jian (building module) the outer rim of clay is longer than that of wood, which faces the courtyard. Further, a given amount of material gives a 41 % larger courtyard and approximately a 13 % larger building area in the circular than in the rectangular tulou 3. A circular building has greater static stability. Analysis of the outer wall alone indicates that a cylindrical shell is more stable (ring and restraining moments).The cylindrical shell is further strengthened considerably by the rigid, horizontal and circular decks of each floor (membrane forces). If additional vertical elements are built, such as fire walls (as illustrated in the case of the Zhenchenglou) the rigidity and strength is further improved, as the cylinder surfaces are fixed in all four directions. 4.The circular tulou has a more uniform room division - As the main source of light is from the courtyard, a corner room would be poorly lit and without adequate ventilation 5. Local superstition holds that evil spirits are everywhere, especially along roads and in brooks, streams and mountain passes. Every corner in a rectangular building is an opportunity for evil spirits to enter the building as the circular tulou have no corners, spirits are more likely to pass by

12 AR 29 12 AR 16 CIRCULAR SHAPE- sense of unity; practical form of defense coming in all directions Outside- village’s bare pathways, and building of same material,clay,giving village and its surrounding a very homogenous appearance.

The upper two or three levels contained houses that were made up of uniformly-sized housing units; they had multi-floor layouts and private staircases that lead from the ground floor to the top (basically townhouses sandwiched together). Each house contained a multi-generational family, and depending on the size of the tulou, up to 80 families or 800 people could live in one tolou. While we can’t say the exact sq footage of each house, we’re pretty sure they achieved a high person per square foot ratio. The uniformity of design created a non-hierarchal structure.

COURTYARD- drying clothes, rice & communal activities and for children's play area--- might be empty or filled with one or two storey building---- may consists of stables, guest rooms, toilets, for use in summer, outdoor kitchen

larger the courtyard, the less influence these buildings have on light and air”– explains why circular tulous have many additional low buildings, while smaller, rectangular tulou often have empty courtyards. a small family owned a vertical set from ground floor to “penthouse” floor, while a larger family would own two or three vertical sets. Toilets, wells and even surrounding agricultural land was all shared as well to keep the communitarian vibe consistent. The ground floor contained communal spaces for worshipping, festivals, meetings, weddings, funerals and other ceremonial functions.

Wikipedia writes this: Unlike other housing types around the world with architecture reflecting social hierarchy, Fujian Tulou exhibits its unique characteristic as a model of community housing for equals. All rooms were built the same size with the same grade of material, same exterior decoration, same style of windows and doors, and there was no “penthouse” for “higher echelons”;

The result of all of this design is a structure that provided safe, wind-proof, cool-in-thesummer, warm-in-the-winter living. A total of 46 Fujian tulou sites have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites; that organization calls them “exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization [in a] harmonious relationship with their environment.” The idea of compact, efficient living is far more ancient than it is modern. It’s only in the last 60 years or so that humans have been able to cheaply make housing that exceeds their needs or make a house that could negate its surrounding environment with an HVAC system or live without the assistance of your neighbors. Ancient architecture like tulous shows that the past can often hold key innovation for a more efficient, sustainable and interconnected future

A book about tulou in English literature is still absent.


The rectangular tulou has set into building’s peripheral range of rooms facing the courtyard while, circular tulou has detached one storey building in the courtyard, where the founding members and the guest are honored. It is in this chamber that the boys of the clan were taught reading and writing etc. On less formal occasions the old men sit here and smoke or the old women gossip while they watch over the youngest children and grandchildren.

The living quarters In China, as elsewhere, a family home is divided into zones, from the open and accessible entrance and courtyard to the total privacy of the bedroom. In the tulou guests have access to the ancestral altar and the family’s living quarters, while access to the rooms along the gallery is restricted to the inhabitants. The rooms of a tulou are shared among its inhabitants in such a way that a single family unit uses two or three rooms on each floor, in a vertical segment of the building.

Central axis

Location of ancestral hall

In South China success in life is guided by supernatural forces, and this has consequences for the building's orientation. Like water from the mountain, the supernatural forces are to be channeled into the the ancestral altar, which therefore lies on the central axis opposite the entrance

Entrance to ancestral hall

One room on the ground floor is the kitchen and another is used for eating and daily living. The stove in the kitchen is vented to the outside through small openings in the outer wall. Steep stairs lead to the verandas that ring the upper three levels. The sleeping quarters are on the first and second floor and food, clothes and valuables are stored on the top floor, although in other yuanlou such as Zhenchenglou bedrooms are found on the upper floors. The preparation of meat and vegetables is done in the courtyard immediately in front of the kitchen where the oven and firewood is to be found.

The tulou have a reputation for a more equal distribution of rooms than other Chinese residences. The size of a household is an important factor when deciding the number of rooms to be allocated but further research is needed to ascertain how family status affects which rooms are chosen. Despite the symmetry of the tulou, there is a side which receives direct sunlight and a side that does not .


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“it is a good interpretation of relationship between chinese and nature” Selecting a site of settlement-natural environment Is deeply considered and respected, such as site with water in front, and hill at the back.

kind of interdependent relation between the tulou village and the natural environment”- the mountains provide a rich full sources for living and production Use of local resources rammed earth wall building technology is efficient, saves labor and easy to get necessary local materials. It is an artistic, technical, and ecological values in architecture. in considering with the expansion of cities, people are in the 1st line, and natural ecology is ignored to some extent. It is more and more difficult to keep the ability of the city deal with disaster under extreme weather situation. We should learn from tulou to improve the relationship between nature and cities.

Community dependence weakening, private property is strengthening “community and privacy” should be satisfied.

Tulou clusters follow the Chinese architectural tradition of overall balance and order go building groups. “the exterior color of tulou matches the earth around, with the vivid color of window frame, door headspring festival,scrolls,etc.. “FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION” is well embodied in tulou building

The tulou ‘s a fortification In past there has been a tradition for the extended families of South East China to live together and there are good grounds for this tradition. Clan cohesion was a important factor in the controlling of all activities - political, religious and economical. This cohesion meant greater stability for the clan and the individual The ruling power was centered far away, in distant Peking, so that disputes had to be solved locally. Consensus was not always reached. This resulted in far more feuding than is found elsewhere in China, and that is the reason why the tulou was also a fortification, with outer walls of stamped clay (terre pisé, hangtu) up to 1.5 meters thick and 18 meters high, an iron-clad portal, weapon slits under the eaves of the large overhanging roof, and a connecting gallery that enabled rapid movement of people and weaponry. The portal is the most vulnerable point of attack and is therefore protected by an ingenious fire-dowsing system with an internal gutter above which is connected to a water tank situated on the second floor. The animal pens, a water well and food stockpiles in the courtyard provided for a lengthy conflict. The tulou is probably the largest, and defensively most advanced, village residences known.

Weapon slits Gun point from inside

Some specific tulou’s: KING OF TULOU” is “CHENGQI LOU” at gaotou village in 1709, it has a 4 concentric rings surrounding an ancestral hall at the center, outer ring is is 62m in diameter , and 4 storey building, having 288 rooms and 72 rooms on each level The oldest in 1419 in Ming dynasty- zhengcheg Lou(hongkeng village) nearly 72m in diameter,48 rooms on each level. It is designed entirely for “DEFENCE AND COMMUNAL LIVING” A Hakka fort would withstand a protected siege, since its grain supply and internal water and sewerage systems made them self-supporting. Eryi-lou was built in 1770, outer wall was about 2.5m thick, it has 3 doors, doors are made of double layer of wooden planks coated with iron. Wells,food storage areas in case of seige. Defensive circulatory system- a continous hidden corridor was built between all its fourth-floor rooms and its ourtwall, a width of 0.8m, this corridor has darkened the adjacent rooms and blocked ventilation,but provided direct access to any point on the wall during an attack. Inside, every unit also included a vertically aligned opening for lifting food,bullets,or even people from floor to floor, if needed. For example, one night in the early 1930s, after laying siege to a tulou for four days, a team of guerrillas attempted to use ladders to climb into its third-floor windows. When the residents discovered their attempt, however, they answered by pouring boiling porridge (which was stickier and hotter than boiling water) onto the attackers’ heads. The guerrillas later had to approach the building under a table covered with wet quilts. It was only three days later that the guerrillas managed to gain entry by digging a tunnel up to its wall and detonating a coffin filled with 150 kilograms of homemade explosives

Originally, these tulous were made of stone, later replaced with earth materials, since they are cheaper and easier to build Tulou– effective and affordable solution to housing a large population on limited land area. now “ efficient means of collective housing” The reason why tulou buildings were carried down to centuries was because of need for less skilled labour,managed themselves, remains the architectural form even after its relevance as a defense structure faded away.

12 AR 29 12 AR 16 Courtyard

Character of courtyard ,still works Wooden overhangs Entrance gateway

Decoration on rooftop of ancestral hall

Tulou with river in front

Central axis and symmetry

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Fujian Tulou case study  

a study on the ancient housing typology adopted in china...

Fujian Tulou case study  

a study on the ancient housing typology adopted in china...

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