• lou (Pinyin without tones)
  • (Traditional Chinese)
  • (Simplified Chinese)
  • lóu (Pinyin)
  • lou (Wade-Giles)
  • loft-building (English)1


    Lou is generally understood to mean a multi-story building (two stories or more) or a loft-building (Kroll 2017, 281) elevated on a terrace or city wall. 1

    Historically, lou as a type of traditional architecture usually designates a building elevated either by means of multiple stories or man-made or natural platforms. The Eastern Han classic Shuowen jiezi defines lou as a structure with a layered wu 屋 (a roof, or a roofed structure).

    From the Warring States Period to the Qing dynasty, the architectural form of lou was usually one of two types:

    1) The first type of lou is a one-story or multi-story military fortification built on city walls or high platforms. During the Warring States Period, Mozi explained “on the top of the city wall, every one-hundred paces, there is a lou. The lou has four vertical walls, all have a common base; below [the lower story] is elevated a zhang (10 feet), above [the upper story] is nine feet.” (《墨子》中出現:“城上百步一樓,樓四植,皆為通舄,下高丈,上九尺”) During the Three Kingdoms, lou on city walls began to be called qiaolou 樵樓, literally meaning lookout-tower (Kroll 2017, 365). During the Northern dynasties, lou on city walls changed, and were, with few exceptions, single-story structures (Xiao 2002, 128). During the Yuan dynasty, lou on city walls could be bell towers (zhonglou 鐘樓) (see figure) or drum towers (gulou 鼓樓). During the Ming and Qing dynasties, multi-story lou on city walls were built again, for example the lou on the city wall at Zhengyang Gate (Zhengyangmen chenglou 正陽門城樓) in Beijing . 2

    2) A lou can also be a tall building with multiple stories. A piece of terracotta sculpture representing a three-story building dated to the Eastern Han through Western Jin periods (1st-5th cen.) bears the inscription “tall lou” (gaolou 高樓) (Lan 20; Liu 2012, 88). Furthermore, the Qin-Western Han classic Er Ya states, “[if a shi 室 (palace, house) is] narrow (shan 陝), tall/elongated (xiu 脩), and intricate (qu 曲), it is called lou.” 3

    Paul W. Kroll rejects the common translation of the single character lou as “tower,” because it “wrongly gives the impression of narrow verticality” (Kroll 2017, 281). Liang Sicheng translated “chonglou 重樓” as a “two-storied building” when describing the architecture depicted in Han engraved reliefs (see figure) (Liang 1984, 30). He also referred to the multi-storied structure above the Han period engraving of the East Gate of Hangu Pass (函谷關 Wade-Giles: Han-ku Kuan) as a lou (Liang 2005, 45). 4

    During the Tang dynasty, the meaning of lou in literature seems ambiguous in the sense that it included any vertically elevated architecture. In the Yingzao Fashi, lou and ge are combined into a compound term. Additionally, dian 殿, ge 閣, lou, and tai 臺 are grouped together, apparently as elevated structures. During the Ming and Qing dynasty, the term lou was used for buildings with a range of functions, and was typically modified by an additional word to form a compound. For example, louge 樓閣 are commonly found in private gardens, the Kuixing lou 魁星樓 was a designated building used in imperial civil examinations, xilou 戲樓 was a building used for performing Chinese drama, and Fanzong lou 梵宗樓 (1768) is a two-story Buddhist building in the Forbidden City in Beijing.


    第一類樓是築於城牆或高臺上一層或多層的軍事防備建築。對於這種樓的描述在春秋戰國時期的《墨子》中出現:“城上百步一樓,樓四植,皆為通舄,下高丈,上九尺”。這種樓不與地面接觸,憑藉高臺以眺望軍情,且四面封閉並有窗。三國時期的城樓繼續發展其把握市政和防守軍備功能,也開始被稱為譙樓。在北朝時期,這種樓幾乎均變為單層建築(蕭默 2003,128)。到了元代,建於城牆上的樓演化出鐘樓 (Fig.1)和鼓樓兩種類型。到了明清時期,城牆或高台上的多層城樓重新被修建,其中最具有代表性的是北京正陽門城樓。 2

    第二類樓是本身高聳的多層建築。旅顺博物馆藏的漢至魏晉的陶楼自下而上有三层,逐层敛收,並在第二层底部刻有汉隶“高楼”二字(蘭芳 20; 劉立麗2012,88)。刻字的位置可能說明樓強調脫離地面的部分。秦漢時期的《爾雅》中有“陝而脩曲,曰樓” 的表述。 現代學者梁思成譯“重樓”為 two-storyed building,即兩層建築物 (梁 2005, 30)。梁思成也將函谷關東門圖中城門上的多層建築稱之爲樓。(圖三;梁2005,45) 3,, 4

    唐代詩詞中,樓的建築形象模糊化,開始普遍用於指代高聳的多層建築。到了北宋,《營造法式》中將殿等建築形式並稱為舉屋之法,樓閣組合為一詞。《營造法式卷第十八大木功限二》中做出了殿閣與樓閣的區分,前者不使用平坐而後者使用平坐。明清時期的樓作為一種建築形式不再具有具體的形制要求,指代更加寬泛,也發展出了更加多樣的文化娛樂功能。在明代園林建造經典《園冶》一書中,計成使用樓閣一詞泛指園林中兩層或三層的建築形式。此外,明清時期的魁星樓在科舉文化中具有重要地位。明清時期戲樓作為戲曲文化場所。清代樓仍可以具有佛教功能,用於皇家祭拜,見位於故宮內二層歇山頂的梵宗樓 (1768)。

Related concepts

Works Cited

Any information without attribution has been created following the Syriaca.org editorial guidelines.

  • 1 KROLL. 2015. A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese, 281.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 2 KROLL. 2015. A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese, 365.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 萧. 2003. 敦煌建筑研究, 128.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 3 兰. 2018. 汉代陶楼的造物研究, 20.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 刘. 2015. 旅顺博物馆藏大连地区出土汉代陶建筑名器研究, 88.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 4 KROLL. 2015. A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese, 281.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; LIANG. 1984. A Pictorial History of Chinese Architecture: A Study of the Development of Its Structural System and the Evolution of Its Types, 30.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; LIANG. 2005. Chinese architecture: a pictorial history, 45.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record

How to Cite This Entry

CMW S21 et al., “ lóu” in Architectura Sinica last modified May 31, 2023, https://architecturasinica.org/keyword/k000086.


CMW S21 et al., “ lóu.” In Architectura Sinica, edited by Tracy Miller. Entry published March 21, 2018. https://architecturasinica.org/keyword/k000086.

About this Entry

Entry Title: lóu

Authorial and Editorial Responsibility:

  • Tracy Miller, editor, Architectura Sinica
  • ZHUGE Jing 諸葛净, associate editor, Architectural Terminology
  • CMW S21, ZUO Lala 左拉拉, and Baolong Chen, entry contributors, “ lóu

Additional Credit:

  • Website coordination by Yuh-Fen Benda
  • Preliminary research CMW S21 Baolong Chen
  • Peer review by ATTCAT 2021
  • English proofreading by Aurelia Campbell Tracy Miller
  • Chinese proofreading by ZHUGE Jing 諸葛净 ZUO Lala 左拉拉
  • Editing, proofreading, data entry and revision by Tracy Miller
  • Adding citation and gloss by MIAO Tongxi 繆彤茜
  • Entry of revised data and links by LI Zhixian 李知賢

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