Siheyuan: the Chinese Housing Dream
Owning a house is now symbolized as an essential part of so-called “American Dream”. You might want to ask what the Chinese version of housing dream looks like? The answer is siheyuan (四合院，Si-he-yuan)
Siheyuan, the Chinese housing dream
Siheyuan is a common style of Han Chinese housing, dated to Zhou Dynasty (1,100 – 256B.C.). It generally composes of enclosed square yard surrounded with houses on four or three sides.
Before we go into talking about the details about siheyuan, let’s enjoy a set of beautiful pictures of a typical siheyuan. This siheyuan is located close to Great Wall near Beijing. It belongs to IWNC. The pictures are provided by IWNC here. (According to ToU, it’s OK to put them here.)
Function and social meaning
Siheyuan, as a living place, is integrated with traditional Chinese culture. The square enclosure separates the family space clearly from outside public space.
1. Main gate.
2. Screen wall. Usually has blessing words on it.
3. Reversed rooms. For servants.
4. Outside yard.
5. Secondary gate.
6. Main yard.
7. Main rooms. For the house owner.
8. East rooms. For elder son. Usually these rooms are taller than west rooms.
9. West rooms. For younger son.
10. Side rooms. For maids.
11. Back rooms. For daughter. It’s very hard for the girls to get out without the permission of parents. “Never go out of the main gate; never step out of the secondary gate.”
As you can see, siheyuan creates a well-organized structure according to the people’s social and family status. It provides great privacy from outside, and enjoyable environment with the garden in the middle yard.
The Forbidden City, the largest siheyuan complex
The Forbidden City is the largest siheyuan complex in the world, a premium practice of siheyuan style architecture, and also the best example of Chinese traditional housing.
Current condition in modern society.
In modern society, along with the change of social and family structure, traditional siheyuan no longer fits the need of Chinese people. Limited space, lack of accessories, discreted family structure all make siheyuan less and less suitable for modern life.
In Beijing, there was a very good example project of siheyuan modernization in Nan-Chi-zi Area. Although the re-structuring and re-designing were very successful, the project is not promoted broadly for some reason. The old traditional siheyuans in Beijing continue to disappear every day in the “modern” concrete city.