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Designs architecture. Writer and blogger. Also a freelance architecture and fashion photographer.

 

 

Ridge

Drawing ridge beam detail Chinese hall

At the moment, I'm focusing on the ridge beam and its importance in the tradition Chinese house. The book Yin Yu Tang states that the beam is more symbolic than structural. How can this be so when it is the highest building member of the frame? There is a saying in Chinese - 上梁不正下梁歪, which, in true Asian style, summarises the following in 7 thoughtful characters: if the ridge beam is crooked, then the lower members will also be crooked. This describes the Chinese house as the family within it - the association is so powerful that it is almost metaphor, just as one family member is not only themselves (as is in the individualistic Western cultures) but their whole family collective.

A real flower ball complete with a tassel.

There is also a ceremony for raising this beam. In the traditional close-knit village, everyone would be invited around for a feast and a red 'flower ball' would be attached to the ridge beam, which would sometimes be painted red. They would also perform the ritual of paying respects to the ancestors with an altar, sticks of incense, and offerings of food. A similar ceremony takes place when the site is selected too, the purpose to have the ancestors overseeing the process and imbuing the communal happiness into the house even from the early stages.

architectural model flower ball Chinese ceremony
Imposing this importance on the Balmoral site model, marking its being in the space. Also did studies of seeing it from the street above the silhouette of facades.

As I started drawing the ridge beam detail of my ancestral hall, I noticed most of it had corroded with age. Very little of the relief sculptures could be made out. So how would I find out what the symbolism was? To me, it isn't really all that important to know exactly what the symbolism is. The usual symbols can be expected of course: dragons (energy/power), phoenix (longevity, renewal), various fruits and flowers (fertility, to have sons). There's also plenty of symbolism underneath the roofline, protected by its shadow. In a way it gives me the space to create my own symbolism on this beam for my architecture - one that talks of Chinese here in Aotearoa as a shared land.

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