What Is Oriental Architecture

Oriental architecture is a term used to encompass a wide variety of traditional and modern architectural styles found in the East, which are typically defined as those styles originating in countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia. Although there are many different forms of Oriental architecture, some of the most common styles include the Chinese temple, pagoda and palatial structures, and the Japanese shinto shrine, the torii, and the more modern tatami-style apartments that are seen in traditional cities. The architectural styles of the East have been shaped over the centuries by a variety of factors, from local climates and topography to religious and cultural influences, resulting in a unique visual style and defining set of construction materials.

The use of wood is one of the defining characteristics of Oriental architecture. Whether in the form of wooden pillars, blocks and boards, or in the form of bamboo, wood has been the primary material used in the construction of many of the iconic structures of the East. This material allows for a versatile range of forms, sizes, and details that create an airy, open atmosphere within a building or structure. The vivid colors and impressive details of many of these structures can be traced back to their woodenbuilding materials, which have been further embellished with lacquer, paints, and carvings.

The use of curved or undulating lines is perhaps one of the defining characteristics of Oriental architecture. This use of curved lines can be seen in the roof lines of Chinese temples, such as those found at the Forbidden City in Beijing, as well as in the structures of the Japanese sliding doors and window frames. The curved lines often used in Oriental architecture can be traced back to the spiritual aspects that have been interwoven into the fabric of these buildings, which is an important element of some Asian beliefs. Buildings and structures are often purposely curved as a representation of an eternal cycle of life, or of the unity between humanity and nature.

The use of curved roofs, along with roofs made of ceramic or tile, is also a defining element of many types of oriental architecture. Tile roofs help to minimize damage from earthquakes and typhoons, while ceramic roofs are intricately decorated and serve to create a distinctive visual style that can be found in virtually all of the countries of the East. This type of roof can reflect the changing of the seasons, or even the changing of the moon, and can provide a subtle, yet pleasing visual connection between the building and its environment.

The use of gardens and natural features is yet another defining characteristic of Oriental architecture. Japanese gardens, as well as Chinese gardens, are often included as part of a larger building, and often use natural elements such as plants, trees, streams, and rocks to create a unique atmosphere. Gardens are used to provide a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and can provide a visual link between the building and the surrounding environment.

Finally, the use of natural materials, such as stone and clay, is a common feature of many types of Oriental architecture. These materials are often used for both structural elements, such as walls and foundations, and decorative elements, such as carvings and sculptures. The use of natural materials helps to create a connection between the building and its environment, as well as providing a sturdy, weather resistant framework on which to build upon.

Technology in Oriental Architecture

In recent years, the use of modern technology in oriental architecture has become more popular. This has allowed for the more efficient and streamlined production of traditional structures, as well as introducing modern conveniences to the designs. Technology such as 3D printing and laser cutting have been used to create intricate and unique decorative elements, while engineering technologies such as reinforced concrete have been used to construct more durable and longer lasting structures. These advancements have allowed for a greater degree of customization and individualization in designs.

For example, Japanese architects have used a variety of advanced technologies to construct residences that blend traditional elements with modern comforts in a visually intriguing way. As a result, these homes often have a unique look and feel, and can be designed to respond to the environment in a way that a standard house could not. A modern building in Japan, for instance, might feature a large main level surrounded by an open garden-like space, and include several decks that enjoy stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The use of traditional elements such as tatami mats and sliding screens creates a distinctly oriental atmosphere, while modern materials and technologies ensure that the building is durable and energy efficient.

The use of technology in the construction of traditional structures also allows for more complex and detailed designs. For example, many traditional Chinese structures have been made out of intricately carved wood, but the use of modern laser cutting has allowed for greater precision and detail in the geometric patterns that are often seen in these structures. Likewise, the use of 3D printing has allowed for a greater degree of customization when constructing intricate and complex structures.

Types of Oriental Architecture

There are a variety of different types of architecture in the East, each with its own distinctive style and features. One of the most ubiquitous is the Japanese temple or shrine, which can be found in virtually every Japanese city or village. The traditional Japanese temple is usually a wooden structure with a sloping roof and intricately carved details. The entrance typically features a torii, a centrally placed gate which serves to mark the boundary between the secular world and the sacred inner area of the temple.

Chinese palatial structures are another common type of architectural style seen in the East. These structures typically feature a large central building surrounded by smaller structures, often connected by winding pathways. Chinese palaces are often built on an elevated platform with an ornate gate at the entrance, and can be seen in many of China’s ancient cities. The use of large courtyards and elegant gardens is often seen in the design of these Chinese palatial structures, which can add a sense of grandeur and grace to the overall design.

Pagodas are another popular type of Oriental architecture, and can be found in many East Asian countries. A pagoda is typically a tall, multi-tiered structure which may be used as a religious or ceremonial building, or as a landmark or tower. Many traditional pagodas are built on multiple levels and feature intricate carvings and decorations, while many modern pagodas are designed to blend in with their natural surroundings and feature stone or concrete walls.

Finally, there are the tatami-style apartments that are found in cities and towns throughout Japan. These traditional apartments date back to the 17th century and typically feature tatami mats on the floor, sliding doors and windows, and low tables. Although tatami-style apartments are not suitable for modern living; they are still representative of a traditional lifestyle and provide a unique form of traditional architecture.

Modern European Influences in Oriental Architecture

Although traditional oriental architecture has been around for centuries, more recent influences from Europe have been seen in the East. For example, the use of wooden blocks in modern design is a trend that has been heavily influenced by Western ideas, and has become increasingly popular in cities in Japan and China. Similarly, the use of modern materials such as reinforced concrete and steel in the construction of buildings has become increasingly prevalent in recent years.

Most notably, modern European influence has been seen in the growth of cities in the East. Cities such as Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are renowned for their towering skycrapers and modern architecture, which have been largely inspired by the West. In contrast to the traditional, low-rise structures and winding streets of Japan, these modern cities are characterized by a more European-style grid of streets and tall buildings. This has allowed for a more efficient use of space and a greater degree of urban development.

At the same time, traditional elements of oriental architecture have been blended into the modern cities of the East. Large public spaces, such as parks, often feature traditional-style elements, such as ornate lanterns, stone pathways, and wooden pagodas. Similarly, modern structures often incorporate traditional elements, such as curved roofs and intricate carvings. This blending of Eastern and Western elements has resulted in cities that retain the character of their traditional architecture while still incorporating the features and advantages of modern design.

Impact of Oriental Architecture

The influence of Oriental architecture can be seen throughout the world today. The unique aesthetic and spiritual elements of these designs have had a lasting effect on architecture around the globe, particularly in Europe and North America. Oriental-style structures such as pagodas and temples can be found in many public spaces, such as parks and gardens. Similarly, the more traditional elements, such as curved lines and wooden building materials, have often been incorporated into modern structures, often creating a unique and visually pleasing effect.

Oriental architecture also has a lasting effect on lifestyle and culture in many countries of the East. For example, the traditional features of Japanese apartments, such as the sliding doors and tatami mats, have provided comfort and convenience in Japanese homes for centuries, and still remain popular today. Similarly, the natural elements of traditional Chinese architecture, such as the use of gardens and courtyards, can still be seen in today’s modern apartments and buildings, providing a pleasant and comfortable atmosphere.

Finally, Oriental architecture also has an effect on our modern understanding of spirituality and the environment. The emphasis on curved lines and natural materials in many of these buildings can help to create a sense of connection with the surrounding environment. This is often combined with a spiritual element, such as a representation of the unity between humanity and nature. As such, Oriental architecture provides us with an understanding of the importance of the natural world and its relationship to our own lives.

Sustainability and Oriental Architecture

Sustainability is an increasingly important consideration for architects and designers in the East. As with many other areas of design, some traditional elements of Oriental architecture have been incorporated into more modern designs to create structures that are more environmentally friendly. For example, traditional buildings often feature intricate wooden elements, which require more effort and energy to produce. To reduce the amount of energy consumed, architects often choose to incorporate green materials and energy-saving methods into their designs.

In addition, many traditional buildings were built using natural materials such as stone and clay, which help to reduce the need for high-energy materials such as steel and concrete. Similarly, the use of natural paints and lacquers helps to reduce the need for the application of more energy-intensive processes, such as electroplating and powder coating. Additionally, the use of gardens and courtyards for ventilation and shading helps to reduce the amount of energy required for cooling and heating.

Finally, many traditional Japanese buildings feature smaller rooms and spaces, which can be more energy-efficient than larger, more contemporary buildings. This emphasis on small, efficient spaces has been adopted by many modern architects, who have designed greener and more sustainable structures. This is especially useful in countries such as Japan, where land is scarce and resources are limited.


Oriental architecture is an important and influential form of design around the world. The use of curved lines and natural materials, along with the incorporation of gardens and courtyards, have helped to create structures that have a unique visual style and spiritual connection to the environment. In addition,

Anita Johnson is an award-winning author and editor with over 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, design, and urbanism. She has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of print and online publications on topics related to culture, art, architecture, and design from the late 19th century to the present day. Johnson's deep interest in these topics has informed both her writing and curatorial practice as she seeks to connect readers to the built environment around them.

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