Andrew I-kang Li
Department of Architecture
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Shatin, N.T.
Hong Kong S.A.R. CHINA

The Yingzao fashi (Building standards) is a Chinese building manual published in 1103. It was written by an architect in the Song court, Li Jie (d. 1110), who had two goals: to educate government officials who had to commission buildings, and to set standards among the builders who built them.

N2002-LiTwo of the six-rafter sections generated by the Yingzao Fashi shape grammar

Li's approach was rule-based. This reflected a tradition in which knowledge was transmitted orally in the form of easily remembered procedures. For instance, the method of determining the characteristic curved roof section, called juzhe, is a two-step process. Another example is that Li's first rule was to use modular units, the absolute values of which varied according to the rank of the building.

Earlier scholars have remarked on this rule-based approach: Liang Sicheng (1901-1972) called the Yingzao fashi a "grammar book of Chinese architecture," and Chen Mingda (1914-1997) recast in consistently modular units those rules which Li, ignoring his own advice, had stated in absolute terms.

I make this approach explicitly generative by using a formal tool, shape grammar. This makes it possible, for example, to understand juzhe as a recursive algorithm and, indeed, to propose a completely generative definition of the Song architectural style. Generative definitions of architectural styles for corpora of designs, whether built or unbuilt, are not new. However, this work is the first to be based on a text, and allows us to articulate precisely both gaps in the text and possible resolutions of those gaps. The work can be extended to comparative formal studies of extant Chinese buildings and a second "grammar book," the Gongcheng zuofa zeli (Structural regulations), published in 1733.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view an associate professor in the Department of Architecture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is interested in computational approaches to teaching and studying all aspects of architecture, from the design process to architectural history. Li was born in Montreal, Canada, and has an LMus in piano performance (McGill University, Canada), an AB in Chinese (Harvard University, USA), an MArch (Harvard), and a PhD in architecture (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA). He studied Chinese architectural history at Nanjing Institute of Technology (now Southeast University) as a China / Canada government exchange scholar. He has also taught in the Department of Architecture, Tunghai University, Taiwan, and worked as an architect in Boston, USA.

The correct citation for this article is:
Andrew I-kang Li, "Algorithmic Architecture in Twelfth-Century China: The Yingzao Fashi", pp. 141-150 in Nexus IV: Architecture and Mathematics, eds. Kim Williams and Jose Francisco Rodrigues, Fucecchio (Florence): Kim Williams Books, 2002.