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Structural, Visual, or Iconic: Transmutations of Wooden Brackets in Modern China

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image of Frontiers of History in China

Together with pillars and roof, the bracket set is one of the most fundamental structural components of traditional timber-frame architecture in China. Not only structurally indispensable, it was also emblematic of specific building styles developed through history. Entering the modern era, however, its architectural validity was overturned by the use of modern technology and building materials, rendering brackets merely a visual and decorative motif. This paper contends that it was precisely when the bracket set lost its structural significance that it began to be discussed in ways that endowed it with layers of cultural meaning in the context of modern China. Examining its modern appropriations in materials other than wood throughout the twentieth century, the paper explores shifting meanings of brackets in their continuous transmutations from a reminder of a defunct component in the building tradition to a nostalgic sign for an irretrievable architectural past.


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