Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable architecture is an exciting and important field, with many people reviving traditional methods of building and others creating innovations to established practices. Kelly Hart, webmaster of the popular website, posts text and photos featuring what he discovers from around the world.

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Location: Crestone, Colorado, United States

Kelly Hart has been involved with green building concepts for much of his life. He has also worked in various fields of communication media, including still photography, cinematography, animation, video production and now website development. Kelly has lived in an earthbag/papercrete home that he built and consults about sustainable building design.

July 27, 2008

Tulou Chinese Architecture

I received an email from Professor Sunny Cai, who teaches architectural design at a college in Beijing , China. He mentioned his interest in ancient Chinese architecture, especially the earthen buildings called “tulou,” and he sent me some pictures of these rammed earth buildings.

I had never seen anything quite like them, so I queried him further about how they were made and used. He replied, “The foundation was built with rocks, 2 feet high all around. The juice of glutinous rice and some lime is mixed into the earth for strength, and then sliced bamboo, reeds, and sometimes pieces of wood are also used.”

This picture was taken in front of a rammed earth building with Sunny Cai and his students.

I did some further internet research and found out more about these interesting structures. Tulou are traditional communal residences in the Fujian province of Southern China, often of a circular configuration surrounding a central shrine. Some of these vernacular structures were constructed of cut granite or had substantial walls of fired brick. The end result is a well lit, well-ventilated, windproof, earthquake resistant building that is warm in winter and cool in summer.

There are more than 20,000 tulou in southern Fujian, and these were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 as “exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization, and, in terms of their harmonious relationship with their environment".

Actually the Tulou were built by a minority called the Hakka, who were originally Han who fled south to escape war and famine during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). As they gradually moved they changed the local architecture by incorporating Han styles and that produced the tulou. Not only were the high walls built for defense but they were also the result of traditional Han architecture. Tulou were mostly built between the 12th to the 20th centuries. The oldest one was constructed over 1,200 years ago and is regarded as a “living fossil” of the construction style of central China.

There are three types of Tulou. The Wufeng has three halls and two side rooms and are said to be the result of a redesign of the Han courtyard. The oldest tulou are the rectangle ones, and the most emblematic ones are round. They are typically designed for defensive purposes and consist of one entrance and no windows at ground level. The biggest round one can have up to five stories with three interior rings. The largest houses cover over 40,000 m² and it is not unusual to find surviving houses of over 10,000 m². Most round tulous are three or four stories, with family kitchens and livestock on the ground floor. The next floor becomes a storage room for food and furniture (with no windows), and above that are the bedrooms.

These structures are exemplary of sustainable architecture in that they are built of local, natural materials with simple techniques. They have good thermal attributes, with the massive earthen walls to help buffer temperatures. They are obviously built to last, and house many of the necessities for life. And they embody a communal life style that conserves energy and resources; these represent a form of ancient co-housing.


Anonymous Martina said...

These are all Chinese is very great.

1:38 AM  
Anonymous Martina said...

These are all nice picture for me wish they everyone the best.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous vignesh said...

Good info and pics...Keep up the good work..

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Hero said...

Hello, I really would like to visit these Tulou or Hakka Tulou. From what I understand most Tulou are located in Fujian and neighbouring Guangdong and Jiangxi provinces. I found this: But they only seem to arrange trips to Fujian?
Could you recommend any other tour operators?

7:41 PM  
Anonymous bamboo said...

Here is another typical farmer's house:

Beautiful Xishuangbanna Dai nationality bamboo house


-- This is the Xishuangbanna Dai village,china. Dai nationality bamboo house is the traditional residential areas, Yunnan province is precious typical representative of the national culture, is a valuable tourism resources. The protection of national culture is built in the province "Great Province of Ethnic Culture," and foster the growth of the tourism industry a very urgent task.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Crystal said...

I'm doing this huge project on the Qin Dynasty and I need info on religion, laws, economics, food, education, architecture, language, technology,and the role of women. Please give me any websites that will help me!!

5:57 PM  
Blogger Nathan J Payne said...

I really like the pictures!

have a look at my blogs please :)

Saw VIHorror MoviesWeb Design

7:48 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Lovely pictures.
I have some pictures of a cross section of a wall. I could send them to you.
I visited these Tulous in Dec 2009. They are well built and very beautiful. My father spoke to them in Hakka (we are hakkas,visiting from Singapore) Mostly older people there now. Most of the young people have gone to the cities to work.

1:16 AM  
Blogger Kelly Hart said...

Greg, please do send me pictures of a wall cross section; that would be very interesting, and maybe I can post one here. Send to kellyhart AT

8:19 AM  
Anonymous shelia said...

i love china

11:24 PM  
Blogger That Guy said...

if you happen to see this, I would love those pics. Message me!

9:13 PM  
Blogger Kelly Hart said...

Greg did send me some nice photos of wall construction and I just posted one of them in this blog post.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Sure. Send me your email address and I'll send you some pics.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Chrysalis said...

Is there any way to get any technical specs and/or architectural drawings of the round Tulou?

10:56 AM  
Blogger Kelly Hart said...

The best resource for detailed descriptions and drawings is a recently published book by Huang Hanmin titled "Fujian Tulou: A Treasure of Chinese Tradition al Civilian Residence" This English edition may b e hard to find. I have the Chinese version, and it is indeed a treasure of a book!

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Brother toner expert said...

I like the architectural design. Schools and shelters can also be designed that way. Very sustainable!

11:10 PM  
Blogger Weng said...

HI, sorry for the late reply. To visit one of these Tulou, you can fly to Xiamen in China and book a bus ride from Xiamen to Yongding (about 2 hours). The weather there is colder than in the town. Check with a travel agency. I visited Xiamen and Yongding in 2009 December.

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Holidays to koh lanta said...

I like the way the Chinese constructed these tulous. Simple and yet very durable. You have to admire their excellence in architecture.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a student currently doing a comparative study on the spatial layout of the Traditional Tulou as well as the Tulou Contemporary Housing and I was wondering if there are any more images that you could share with me.
I know no other way to send you a private message but will be checking back on this page for any further developments.

Thank you for your speedy reply,

9:04 AM  
Blogger Kelly Hart said...

You can contact me directly about this at

11:01 AM  

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