Traditional Chinese Roofs

Traditional Chinese architecture is not only as old as Chinese civilization with 5,000 years of history but unique in the world, particularly when the roof system is concerned, both in terms of its multi-layered dougong structure – a set of interlocking wooden brackets that supports the massive roofs – and its visual style in shape, size and colour.

Below is a brief introduction to some commonly used classic Chinese roofs in residential dwellings, public buildings and garden structures.

Classic Chinese Residential Roofs

Overhanging Gable Roof

Overhanging gable roof for residential buildings in southern China

The overhanging gable roof is the most common residential roof type in south of Yangtze River where the climate is humid and warm. The wide eaves are designed to keep the upper parts of the timber structure from the rain.

Flush Gable Roof

Traditional flush gable roof for residential buildings in northern China

The flush gable roof is the most common residential roof style used in north of Yangtze River where the climate is relatively cold and dry.

Roof with High Firewalls

Traditional Chinese residential roof with high firewalls

The firewalls at the both ends could be in various height and shape. The residential buildings with this type of roof are commonly seen in windy Anhui and Zhejiang provinces in southern China.

Single Slope Roof

Traditional Chinese single pitch roof

This type of roof is often seen on residential buildings in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces in northern China where the climate condition is quite windy and cold with heavy snowfall in winter.

Gable and Single Slope Roofs

Traditional Chinese multi-hip roof

Multi-gable roofs are commonly used on multi-storey residential buildings in Zhejiang Province in China’s humid southeast coastal region where it rains frequently.

Gable and Single Slope Roofs

Traditional Chinese multi-facade hip roofs for residential building

This type of roof is quite common on the residential buildings in southern China.

Multi-Eave Gable and Hip RoofsTraditional Chinese multi-leveled hip roofs

Multi-eave gable and hip roofs are commonly seen on the residential buildings in hot and humid southern China.

Gable Roofs for Stilt Houses

Traditional Chinese roof for stilt houses in mountain areas

Roofs for stilt houses in mountain areas in China’s subtropical southwest

Traditional Chinese Roofs on Public Building

Gable and Hip Roof

Traditional Chinese gabled roof

Gable and hip roof were traditionally used on less important palace, government and religious buildings.

Intersecting Gable and Hip Roofs

Traditional Chinese double-hip-gable roofs

This is a building with overlaid gable and hip roofs in a Daoist temple in Zhengding County, Hebei Province.

Hip Roof

Traditional Chinese gable roof

In classic Chinese building code, hip roofs were reserved for public buildings of significance, such as meeting halls in royal palace or the chief prayer hall in big temples.

Double Eave Hip Roof

Traditional Chinese double-layered hip roof

Double-eave hip roofs were, in old days, exclusively reserved for major buildings in royal palace, such as Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing Forbidden City.

Double Eave Hip and Flat Roof

This combination of flat and hip roofs did appear often.

Single and Double-Eave Gable & Hip Roofs with Upswings at the Ends

A traditional Chinese roof illustrated in a Song Dynasty painting

A set of roofs on a terrace building as illustrated in a Song Dynasty painting

Multi-Leveled Single-Eave, Double-Eave and Overlaid Gable & Hip Roofs

Roof of the ancient Tengwang Terrace Building

This complicated roof set was for the ancient Tengwang Terrace Building as illustrated in a Song Dynasty painting

Multi-Leveled Single-Eave, Double-Eave and Intersecting Gable & Hip Roofs with Upswings at the Ends

The roof on the ancient Yellow Crane Terrace Building

This complicated roof set was for the ancient Yellow Crane Terrace Building as illustrated in a Song Dynasty painting

Combination of Multi-Leveled Cross Gable & Hip Roofs and Round Ridge Roofs

Roofs on the corner watchtowers of Beijing Forbidden City

This set of L-shaped roofs are on the corner watchtowers of Beijing Forbidden City.

Combination of Double-Eave Hip Roof and Double-Eave Pyramid Hip Roofs Linked by Gable Roofs

The roofs on Beijing Forbidden City's Meridian Gate hall, verandas sand watchtowers

This set of roofs is on Beijing Forbidden City’s Meridian Gate for the Receiving Hall, corner watchtowers and verandas.

Traditional Chinese Roofs on Garden Structures

Round Roof

A traditional Chinese round roof, the most common roof type for garden pavilions

This is the most common roof style for garden pavilions

Triangle Hip Roof

A traditional Chinese roof with 3 facades

This type of roof allows the structure with three facades, normally used on a small garden pavilion built in a tiny plot of land with an awkward irregular shape.

Octagonal Hip Roof

A traditional Chinese roof with 8 facades

A traditional Chinese roof with 8 facades, which could be either single or double eaves, normally used on a major pavilion structure in a big garden or a lager Buddhist pagoda.

Fan-Shaped Gable and Hip Roof with a Round Ridge

This type of roof is normally used on a waterside garden structure.

Single-Eave and Double-Eave Gable & Hip Roofs

A combination of single and double layered gable roofs for a waterside terrace building

It was used on a waterside terrace building as illustrated in a Song Dynasty painting.

Double-Eave Intersecting Gable & Hip Roofs

A traditional Chinese roof with two double-layered gable roofs

It is used on a garden structure

Ancient Chinese architectural drawings

These are 600-year-old architectural drawings for Beijing Forbidden City produced by Ming Dynasty architects from Suzhou.

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