Wednesday, April 20, 2011


April 20th is the anniversary of the birth of architect Liang Sicheng. In an article today, Chinese news agency Xinhua called Liang the “father of modern Chinese architecture,” and interviewed his second wife, who is still living. But he’s really nothing less than our single most important connection to ancient Chinese architecture. Liang and his first wife Lin Huiyin were educated at U Penn’s architecture school, married, and returned to China to undertake the first history of its traditional wood post-and-beam architecture.

Prior to Liang, documentation of China’s rich architectural history existed only in text. His expository drawings and diagrams, published in 1946, were the first to visually explain the curved roof and bracket sets which form the grammar of Chinese timber construction (and Korean, and Japanese architecture as well). Modern architectural education in China today is based on the model Liang brought back from U Penn, so in that sense the Xinhua article is correct.

I hope you’ll read more about this amazing couple, perhaps starting with Wilma Fairbank’s Liang and Lin: Partners in Exploring China’s Architectural Past, described by the New York Times as “the story of a romance and of a heroic struggle against great odds . . . in the final years of an epoch when Old China faded away and New China took its place.”
You can most readily find Liang’s elegant drawings in Chinese Architecture: A Pictorial History, edited by Fairbank. Liang and Lin paid a price to bring us this legacy, overcoming illness, injury, and wartime occupation. Indeed, the drawings came perilously close to being lost forever during World War II. They were the product of arduous treks to remote sites, and Liang, since his work emphasized the significance of traditional Chinese architecture, was later persecuted and branded as a “counter-revolutionary” during China’s cultural revolution. Lin Huiyin had died in 1955 after a long struggle with tuberculosis.
Lin, considered China’s first female architect, was also a highly regarded poet, essayist, playwright and translator. Her niece is the American architect and artist Maya Lin. Her husband Liang’s father, Liang Qichao, was a highly respected scholar and reformer at the end of the Qing dynasty. Such is the connection of past and present represented in these lives.
Pictured is Liang's Jianzhen Memorial Hall, photo by Gisling from Wikimedia Commons

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