The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Friday, May 13, 2011

Great Designs in Wood (11)

The imposing edifice you see here is the Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple in Ying CountyShanxi province, China. It was brought to my attention by a visiting scholar working here in my lab at Penn State, Mr. Jianwei Ren, who is a native of Shanxi province.

This impressive pagoda was built back in the year 1056, or 40 years before the First Crusades were begun. That's a long time ago. And besides its stunning beauty and amazing longevity, it has another claim to fame that should be celebrated here at Go is the tallest existing wooden structure in the world! At over 67 meters, it would be nearly 20 meters taller than that 9-story wooden apartment building that was built recently in London. The closest wooden buildings that I can find in height are some WWII blimp hangars out on the West Coast...I'll blog about them in the future; they are also amazing in their own way.

The pagoda is a Buddist temple. Jianwei tells me the story of its construction is legendary...
"It was built by Lu Ban who was a legendary master carpenter in China. He took only one night to build this pagoda. Because there were a lot of wars in this area, he wanted to built a pagoda to stop wars. (In old China, people believed the devil coerced people into starting a war, and a pagoda which  was blessed by Buddha could stop the devil from doing these kinds of things.)"
The temple is built mostly from Xing’an larch from Northern China. The Chinese call it "Huang hua liang", but I'm guessing that we would call it Prince Rupprecht's larch, Larix principis rupprechtii Most sub-species of larch are known for their durability, and are used in some of the most extreme uses.  So it is natural that the builder(s) of Sakyamuni would use the local larch. But the amazing thing about the structure is the detail in its construction...
"The pagoda was built on a stone platform four meters high. Around the upper edge and at the corners of the platform there are sculptures of crawling lions whose simple and unsophisticated style belongs to the Liao Dynasty. The exterior of the pagoda is divided into five levels, but there are actually nine levels in the interior, including four built-in storeys. The ground floor has a ring of side corridors and eaves, so it has a total six-layer eaves, the lower two formed into multiple eaves. Under each of the succeeding four layers there is a further dark layer, so the structure actually has nine layers. The exterior of the dark layer is called "level seating" which is a ring of corridors with balustrades around the pagoda itself. Each floor consists of inner and outer rings of pillars. The pillars on each floor slant slightly inward, the plane size diminishing floor by floor, although the figure remains stable. The windowless outer walls on the ground floor, the added enclosing corridors and eaves all strengthen the sense of stability.  
The steeple of the pagoda is ten meters high; the whole pagoda, 67.31 meters high. The diameter of the octagonal first storey is 30.27 meters, the longest among ancient pagodas.  
The whole pagoda consists of six-layer eaves, four-layer lever seats and two-layer platforms, with a total of 12 level lines in coordination and affinity with the vast land. Hence, the pagoda sits steadily on the vast land, natural but implicit, but by no means too lofty.  
For nearly a thousand years the Wooden Pagoda has withstood numerous strong earthquakes. According to historical records, during a severe earthquake lasting seven days during the reign of Emperor Shun of the Yuan Dynasty the pagoda stood firm. Though the Yingxian County area was affected by the big earthquakes in Xingtai and Tangshan of Hebei Province and in Helinger of Inner Mongolia in recent years, the Wooden Pagoda did not suffer any damage. The pagoda's antiseismic strength, proved by these earthquakes, demonstrated the achievement of wooden structures in ancient China.  
The Sakyamuni Pagoda, honest and simple towering over the vast land of north China, is an artistic expression of the great spirit of the Chinese nation, and has eternal esthetic value."  -

We'd have to agree with that.

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