Saturday, November 10, 2012

286. Why Chinese Architectural Design?

Several years ago I gave a presentation in New England on Thomas Jefferson and Chinese architecture. Some of my audiences wondered why Jefferson put Chinese railings on the top of his mansion in Monticello. The following explanation from Jefferson should help them and readers of this weblog to understand the reason why Jefferson had the Chinese design on his building top. He stated, "We must contrive a building in such a manner that the finest and most notable parts of it be the most exposed to the public view, and the less agreeable disposed in by places, and removed from sight as much as possible."

The above statement is clear enough for us to understand Jefferson's thinking of the Chinese design. At least it tells that in Jefferson's mind, the Chinese design is both "the finest" and one of the "most notable parts" of his mansion. It shouldn’t be considered it a statement of overstretch to make the conclusion that Jefferson had been influenced by Chinese culture. Furthermore, it shouldn't be considered it a coincidence that Jefferson placed the Chinese design on the top of his beloved mansion in the time when he made great efforts to build a new nation by drawing positive elements from the whole world.

1 comment:

History Education Hawaii, Inc. said...

Dave, are you familiar with an American named Orson Squire Fowler? (October 11, 1809 – August 18, 1887). He is often credited with being the one who popularized eight-sided, octagonal homes in 19th century America. I've seen one of these types of homes near where I grew up, Greenwich, Connecticut. A mile north of the NY state line in Banksville, North Castle NY is a home on, appropriately, Roundhouse Road. Your blog post caused me to wonder if Fowler may have derived his design from Chinese pagodas. I've not seen any evidence that Fowler personally visited China or anywhere else in Asia. However, I wonder if he might have seen engravings of pagodas and similar buildings and simply applied them to his version of an eight-sided home?