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Tibetan Architecture  has created a style of art rich in scientific and aesthetic value. Tibetan house

Local Houses
Housing styles in Tibet vary according to regional conditions. The most common style is the white Stone Tower.

Stone Towers are built like military fortifications. The perimeters of these buildings are usually built in the shape of a trapezoid for increased strength. They are usually two-story buildings made of stone and wood. The lower floor is where livestock is stabled..The upper floor is comprised of living rooms for the family, storerooms and a shrine room. If there is a third floor, it will be divided into two parts: the rear section will be used as a shrine while the open front space is used as a balcony. Usually in every corner of the top floor there is space to insert auspicious prayer flags. Unlike the ancient eave-styled houses typical in inland China which are designed for areas of higher rainfall, the Tibetan Stone Towers have flat roofs which make removing the frequent snows easy.

The outer walls of Stone Towers are usually painted white. However, in some regions of Lhasa, there are also some houses painted the original yellow color of the earth. In Shigatse, to distinguish from their Sakya Regime, some houses are painted with an under coat of deep Russian blue with white and red stripes. Houses in Tingri County in another part of this region are painted white, with red and black stripes around the walls and windows.

Another interesting fact worth mentioning is the design of the windows in the outer walls. The tops of the windows have an eave which is covered with a piece of red, white and blue striped cloth. The outer walls of the window frame are painted black in the shape of a solid trapezoid and the wooden window frames can also be painted with various pictures and patterns.

Tibetan architecture

Tibetans also like to decorate their front doors. The lintel of the door is usually inscribed with Buddhist mantras and the use of wood and glass makes the frame appear like a shrine and Buddhist statues and other sacred objects are placed within it. The brackets between the column and the lintel are also painted. Some people also place a shrine or a Yak horn on the top of the lintel. In Shigatse objects similar to stupas  are often placed on the lintel. There is usually a single vermeil or pitch-black door leaf, decorated with iron or bronze flakes or rings and symbols of the Sun and the Moon or Buddhist swastika. The surrounding walls outside the frame are designed like those of windows mentioned above.

The inside of the houses are even more beautifully decorated. Flowery Tibetan Carpets, paintings and statues are the necessities of a family. All the walls, pillars, desks and cabinets are carefully painted with Buddhist themes or auspicious patterns. The shrine room holds the most value for Tibetans. Usually Buddhist statues are put in the center of the altar, and in front of these offerings, such as Butter Sculptures and pure water are placed. The walls are often hung with Thangkas.

Besides the Stone Towers, there are also single-story houses in Tibet, as well as tents in the pastures of Northern Tibet, which are also elaborately designed and mostly used as shrines now. In the forested eastern region wooden houses are more popular. In the remote Ngari and other regions, caves and earthen houses are built.

Tibetan building – Norbulingka Park

Aristocratic Residences
In Tibet former manors and villas of some ancient aristocrats can still be seen. These residences are composed of a front courtyard and a main building. The two-story courtyard provides storerooms, and rooms for serfs and chamberlains. The main building is usually three stories and from above resembles the Chinese character '?' (hui). The central part of the building is a patio. The first floor is used for storing or renting; the second contains a shrine, an assembly room, a kitchen and some storerooms; while the third is made up of the living rooms of the owners and their close servants. The later aristocratic residences are like modern villas which have courtyards which are greener and closer to nature. Most are also two stories with terraces on the north side of the top floor. Because of this they resemble another Chinese character '土' (tu) from above.

The unique architecture of these manors can be seen in the famous Norbulingka  of Lhasa, the Pala Manor of Shigatse, and other palaces in Tibet.

For religious Tibetans their houses are only resting places for their bodies while temples are for their souls. That is why their temples are much more majestic than their houses and therefore much more culturally significant.

According to the Buddhist sutras the universe is composed of four huge continents and eight small continents and its center is Mt. Meru. Tibetans follow this cosmology and create artwork called Mandalas  as miniature representations of the universe. They also apply their cosmology to the design of their architecture. The halls in the Sam ye Monastery  and Tholing Monastery  are examples of this. Golden Roofs are another unique feature of Tibetan temples. They are usually decorated with many holy or auspicious subjects such as lotuses, stupas, Dharma Wheels, inverted bells, prayer flags and animals.

Samye Monastery, Tibet

The decorations used around the temples are also very unique. The outsides of the temples are usually painted in bright red, yellow and white. This then makes the internal halls quite dark and allows beams of sunlight from the upper windows to be used to focus on and highlight the faces of the statues. This makes the statues seem more sublime. Every part of the temples is well-painted. Murals, using the five colors significant in Buddhism, are very common on the temple walls. These colors and their symbolic significance are red--fire, yellow--earth, blue--sky, white--cloud and green—water. Most of the murals have religious motifs, including religious figures, stories or propitious religious symbols.

The distribution of the architectural styles in Tibet also has some unique characteristics. In some cities and towns like Lhasa, administrative centers and local houses are centered on the temples. Due to Tibetan religious beliefs and considerations of safety and power, temples and palaces are usually situated in the mountains. In some regions like Gyangtse and Shigatse, the administrative centers are placed on the top of the mountain with the temples on the mountainside and the village at the foot of the mountain.

Comments and Questions

i want to know about terma and jangter tradition


5/31/2009 4:18:00 AM


Asked by Lama Gyalwangpedma (Nepal)