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Buffy Lien



Calligraphy and Architecture

“Architecture is three dimensional calligraphy, and calligraphy is lively architecture.”


Calligraphy and architecture were just a tool in the beginning of human civilization. 

The history of Chinese calligraphy as long as the history of Chinese culture, no one can really tell when is the Chinese written language appeared. The oldest Chinese writing, Jia Gu Wen (shell and bone script), is appeared around 1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C.. The most of Jia Gu Wen used in divination, also used to recorded hunting and farming schedule and other events, such the date of war and sacrifice. Jia Gu Wen just like its name, it was writing (carving) on turtle shells or ox scapulas. About 220 B.C., the Frist Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang dominated the ancient China. Li Si, the prime minister, he unified the Chinese written language, because in that time, each country have their own style characters. And, Li Si standardized them and created a new style calligraphy, Zuon style (seal script). After that, with time goes by, the style of Chinese calligraphy have developed five common styles, Zuon style (seal script), Li style (clerical  script), Kai style (regular script), Hsin style (semi-cursive script) and Tsao style (cursive script). The development process not only contained the visual form and shape change, but also included  the inner part, from standard systematized to lively stylized. 

In the other hand, architecture has the same development process. Thousand years ago, people were living in cave or living on trees, til the Neolithic period, people began to engage in simple agriculture and animal husbandry, and these operations transformed mankind from nomadic to settle down. They start to use mud to make brick, and use brick to construct houses. However, in these stage, architecture still only have one simple function, its keep human a stable and safe place to live. In that time, form and decoration were not the top priority. 

However, time can change everything, the ancient Chinese architecture mostly  constructed by mud, straw and bamboo, the structure was very simple. Since Qin Dynasty, people start to try to develop some complex construction techniques and materials, such use brick, stone and wood to built attic, watchtower and other functional and decorate building. Henceforward, the style and form of Chinese architecture has changing every dynasty, besides, influenced by western culture. 

Now, Chinese architecture have totally different form, also the meaning of architecture from purely functional to now its more like a way to express personal point of view. It can be very clearly to see in the Chinese city, no matter from the style to material, it all represent the designer and architect how to treatment a space, they don't have to follow the certain form, they have more freedom than before. In ancient Chinese, the style of architecture have very fixed design, the decoration and arrangement are more like a public expectation, more general, but not the builder or house owner. The development of calligraphy and architecture both are from an ordinary tool to full emotional art work.

What is the connection between calligraphy and architecture? what makes these two parallel lines connecting together? One is two-dimensional, the other one is three-dimensional. One is using for transfer information, the other is creating a well space to live. Then, what is the connection? I think there are four main principles that constitute calligraphy and architecture, and transform them from cold and unfeeling tool become vividly and lively art. The four principles are “structure”, “material”, “element” and “composition”. 


Chinese character is built up in its own square, and each character have their own structure. Structure composed by strokes and it also gives characters a standard and identity, let people to recognize and know how to write each character correctly. In architecture field, structure is the foundation of a building, just like the bones of human, to supported the building and defined the architecture’s looks.


Brush, ink, paper and ink stone are the four treasures of study, the basic calligraphy set. Use different tool can created completely different effect, for instance, texture of goat hair is soft and it can contain much more ink, these kind of brush usually used to write Tsao style character.  In the other hand, material in architecture are also can not be ignored, just like structure is the bone of building then material is the flesh and blood. Material can strengthen a building's character, glass, concrete and wood, each material give people different feeling and they also transfer different impression and information.


Dot, horizontal, vertical, hook, rise, bend, throw away and press down are the eight basic strokes made up Chinese character, every Chinese letter basically have these strokes, and the strokes are the foundation of Chinese character. Element in architecture can be divided two parts: artificial and natural. Door, window and decoration are  artificial elements, and such as light, winds, location and environment are natural elements. 


Unlike structure, material and element are practical and visual, composition is an abstract concept. In calligraphy, composition can be seen as the relationship of each characters and withe space. In the same way, the relationship between each architecture parts (door, window, stair etc.) are also composition, and the relationship between each building and other space.

This four principles can divide rational and perceptual, formalization and stylization. Structure and element both are about form and shape, they are objective and formalization. From hundred years ago to now, people already accumulated enough knowledge can understand the meaning of form and shape, curves have lively and rhythm, line is stable and regular. However, material and composition are opposite, they are subjective and stylization, they are full emotion, they are unlike structure and element have one correct answer, the meaning of these two principles are change with time and personal experience. And, this principles are decided calligraphy and architecture is tool or art. Hence, this four principles are affected how people perceive and define calligraphy and architecture are tool or art work.

I think, if people can sense a space is cozy, crowed or cold, then they can also use the same sense to feel calligraphy. Architecture is three-dimensional, every thing exist in the environment can transfer message, lights, smell, temperature and location all can help people to feel the space. Architect and designer can use form and style to imply people to define a space. 

But calligraphy is not, the communication only between the calligrapher's mind and his heart, the strokes are like a trace of thinking and the movement of writing is like a performance. Hence, i want to use the sense that people used to experience architecture and space to sense calligraphy, also, if calligraphy can be present like architecture have texture, smell or temperature, then what this calligraphy will be? I don’t think people will use calligraphy again, but i do want people can feel the esthetics part about calligraphy, in other words, if calligraphy is not abstract, is any possible  that people will re-applied it again?