The Paradox of the Angled Bracket-arm and the Unorthodox “Speech Patterns” of Shanxi Regional Architecture

Preferred Citation

Harrer, Alexandra. “The Paradox of the Angled Bracket-Arm and the Unorthodox ‘Speech Patterns’ of Shanxi Regional Architecture,” 2018, 45.

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This paper challenges the traditional view of Chinese architecture as a building culture rooted solely in the idea of orthogonality (straightness, squareness) and the desire for normalization (regularity through conformity with government rules). After discussing if and how historical documents and/or their modern interpretation have codified these principles and created an official language for wood construction, the author identifies Shanxi regional architecture as a topolect, a traditional Chinese linguistic concept that identifies a local form of speech that is mutually intelligible with Standard Chinese (Mandarin). Just as with Chinese language, Chinese architecture took various forms that had shared characteristics with the mainstream form, but that varied just as topolects do, Besides taking on a local flavor in the form of dialects, “Shanxi Mandarin,” as we might call it, shared a common set of “grammar” rules with the official “tongue” but modified its “vocabulary,” and this included using unorthodox (slanting, sloping, curved) elements such as the angled bracket-arm. Making use of the analogy with Chinese language, this paper uses recent linguistic and architectural research to re-contextualize the linguistic metaphor that has been the basis of the formulation of Western architectural theory for the past two millennia and to elaborate on early-twentieth-century Chinese explanatory models (e.g., those of Liang Sicheng). This in turn proves helpful for explaining the (hitherto unsolved) complex relationship between the standard and its regional and local variations in the rhetoric of Chinese construction, and offers an alternative way of interpretation that eschews the negative connotation of socio-political caste mentality (native Han vs. alien, non-Han ethnicity).

Additional Citation Information


Title: The Paradox of the Angled Bracket-arm and the Unorthodox “Speech Patterns” of Shanxi Regional Architecture

Author: Harrer, Alexandra


URI:  Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record

URI:  Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record


Language: en

Date of Publication: 2018

Pages: 45


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