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Ancient building knowledge

It Bracket set: the most unique structural element of ancient architecture

AddDate:2015/3/14

It Bracket set: the most unique structural element of ancient architecture


The most basic bracket set



                 Warring States   dragon and phoenix bronze scheme




          Liao period     the exterior eave brackets of the Pagoda of Fogong Temple



As a kind of the most unique element of Chinese ancient timber structure, bracket set also deserves to be called as the symbol of Chinese ancient traditional timber architecture. It depends on tension-and-mortise work to compress and combine a set of small wooden piece, being used on the top of pillar, architrave, eave and framework for load bearing and connection. With a long history, though varying in composition and form in different periods, it is basically composed by two function parts: one is the transverse or vertical “arch” which is used to support the girder, and the other one is the square component, “bucket”, which is located among “arches” to bear and connect each layer of “arch”. The name of “bracket set” also derives from it.





Qing dynasty       the exterior eave brackets of the major temple of Shenyang imperial palace


According to the structure pattern on some ancient artifacts, people speculate that the bracket set has existed since Western Zhou Dynasty, and it has experienced the formation and development stage from Western Zhou to Northern and Southern Dynasty (420-581). In Han Dynasty, the bracket set on the top of pillar has already been used to bear purlin, girder or square-column of ground floor with no connection to each other. After Han, people begin to make use of the brackets between pillars and name it as “zig-zag arch”, which stands for setting up a forks type tooling on the architrave and then putting a bucket on it to bear the eave purlin.


It is the mature stage for the development of the bracket set from Tang Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty. During this period, its major characteristic is that most girders supported by the column head are inserted into the structure of the brackets, making them integrated as a whole. The brackets therefore become the fortified joint of each intersection point and the integral part of horizontal frame rather than the isolated bearing frame or cornice component. Then during the period of Tang and Song Dynasty (618-1279), the bracket set is commonly used between the beam columns of palace construction with the existing Great Hall of Foguang Temple of Tang Dynasty as the typical example. Later, in Ming and Qing Dynasty (1368-1911), people begin to adopt various architraves as the bearing and connecting component for that timber material becomes increasingly scarce, which makes the function of bracket set gradually decline together with its shape and structure. In some constructions, it even becomes the pure decoration part.