Traditional Chinese Architecture Digital Research Tool

Tracy Miller, Department of History of Art

Vanderbilt University

The Traditional Chinese Architecture Digital Research Tool is, at its core, a digital image archive of the monumental architecture of pre-modern China. The dataset is focused on our earliest extant examples of timber-frame architecture in China, largely dating from the 8th-13th centuries, and includes information on construction techniques as well as stylistic features. The vast majority of these buildings were constructed for ritual purposes, therefore data on style and structure of the buildings, as well as epigraphic information on site concerning patronage, have the potential to enhance not only our understanding of the aesthetics of traditional Chinese architecture over time and space, but also our understanding of the trade networks, crafts traditions, and spiritual aspirations of people living in pre-modern China.


Currently in active development, the Traditional Chinese Architecture Digital Research Tool will be a be a public, browser-based architectural history research website. To see an example of our trial site (set up with the help of Steve Baskauf) click here

When complete the tool will consist of four parts:

1. A linked open data (LOD) database of architectural complexes and individual structures searchable both by name of site (ancient and modern) and by technical terminology used to describe individual elements of single timber-frame buildings that are known to vary across regions. Search terms will be in Chinese (traditional and simplified scripts), pinyin Romanization of modern Mandarin, and English translation.

2. A photo archive of images keyed into the search terms of the database. This archive is based on my own photographs of more than one hundred middle-period structures and the building complexes of which they are part. This will be supplemented with architectural drawings to further research and teaching.

3. A digital mapping tool that will allow search results to be located on a map of modern China using U.S. Geological Survey public domain base maps. This will be linked to the photo archive to facilitate viewing of search results through the map interface.

4. Photographs and transcriptions of epigraphic information found at a given site. Titles of stele inscriptions and donor names will be searchable using traditional Chinese characters.