Tibetan Architecture

Tibetan architecture has things to do with Buddhism and has been highly influenced by Nepal, China and India. For example, the Buddhist prayer wheel, along with two dragons, can be seen on nearly every temple in Tibet. Many of the houses and monasteries are typically built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south. Rocks, wood, cement and earth are the primary building materials. Flat roofs are built to conserve heat and multiple windows are constructed to let in the sunlight. Due to frequent earthquakes, walls are usually sloped inward at 10 degrees.

World Heritage Site

Standing at 117 meters in height and 360 meters in width, the Potala Palace, designated as a World Heritage Site in 1994 and extended to include the Norbulingka area in 2001, is considered a most important example of Tibetan architecture. Formerly the residence of the Dalai Lama, it is said to over a thousand rooms within its thirteen stories, used for both religious purposes and as the (former) seat of the Tibetan government and home of the Dalai Lama, who was Tibet’s head of state until 1959. It is divided into the outer White Palace, which serves as the administrative quarters and living quarters of the Dalai Lama, and the inner Red Palace, which houses the Great West Hall, chapels, shrines, and Buddhist scriptures.

Traditional Architecture

Traditional Kham architecture is seen in most dwellings in Kangding, where wood is used abundantly as a building material. The roof is supported by horizontal timber beams, which rest on wooden columns. Floors and ceilings are wooden. The interior of houses are usually paneled with wood and the cabinetry is ornately decorated. Ganzi, Kham, is known for its beautiful wooden houses built in a range of styles and lavishly decorated with wooden ornamentation.

Religious Architecture

China’s Cultural Revolution resulted in the deterioration or loss of Buddhist monasteries, both by intentional destruction or through lack of protection and maintenance. Starting in the 1980s, Tibetans began to restore or rebuild damaged temples and revive monastic traditions.

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery shows the influence of Mongol architecture. Changzhug Monastery is one of the oldest in Tibet, said to have been first built in the 7th century during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo(605?–650 CE). Jokhang was also originally built under Songsten Gampo. Tsozong Gongba Monastery is a small shrine built around the 14th century AD. Palcho Monastery was founded in 1418 and known for its kumbum which has 108 chapels on its four floors. Chokorgyel Monastery, founded in 1509 by Gendun Gyatso, 2nd Dalai Lama but was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.