Tibetan Architecture

by | Nov 8, 2018

Tibetan architecture contains Chinese and Indian influences but has many unique features brought about by its adaptation to the cold, generally arid, high-altitude climate of the Tibetan plateau. Buildings are generally made from locally available construction materials and are often embellished with symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. For example, private homes often have Buddhist prayer flags flying from the rooftop in the Tibetan culture. Religious structures fall into two main types: temples, which are used for religious ceremonies and worship; and stupas (Chortens), which are reliquaries and symbols. Temples (Gompas) come in a great variety of styles, generally reflecting local architectural traditions.

Secular structures in Tibet include private homes, multi-family dwellings, and shops. Some herding families live in tents for part of the year, although people who live in tents year-round are becoming rare due to government programs to encourage (or require) herdsmen to move into permanent housing. Typically, Tibetan structures are constructed with locally available materials such as stone, clay, and wood.

Materials and Style use in Tibetan Architecture

Since 1980, concrete has also come into use but so far is not widespread in rural villages. Most houses are built on elevated land facing south. Flat roofs are used in most parts of central and western Tibetan plateau, where rainfall is slight; however, in the eastern Tibetan plateau, where summer rains are heavier, sloping roofs, covered either in slate, shingles, or (increasingly) ceramic tiles, are popular.

In prosperous agricultural areas, private homes may have up to three stores. In herding areas where houses may be used only part of the year, they usually have only one story. Walls that are constructed of stone or rammed earth may be up to a meter thick at the base. In large structures such as temples and manor homes, walls slope inward to create an illusion of greater height. Windows are usually small because the walls are so heavy that large openings would make the structure weak and unstable. In the past, windows featured paper-covered wooden latticework, but nowadays almost universally use glass.

Perhaps the most beautiful village and small-town architecture in to be seen in the Tawau area of eastern Tibet, where the building technique combines the horizontal red timber construction with pristine whitewashed adobe and finely carved windows.

Our Other Post on Tibetan Culture & Customs

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Tibetan Opera

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A khata is a traditional ceremonial or offering scarf used widely in Tibetan culture and in Tibetan Buddhism for different purposes.

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