The Hakka Tulou

Published: 09th February 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th February 2015 05:35 AM   |  A+A-

War usually implies destruction of the architecture of a place, but here is a unique example, from the 13th century, of war giving birth to new architecture and identity and the rise of self-sustainable micro-communities. Tulou is the unique architecture of the Hakka people of China settled in the mountainous southwest of the Fujian province, who faced continuous armed warfare and a struggle to protect local resources.

Architecture.jpgClosed outside and open inside, a Tulou is a massive square or circular fortresses with just a single entrance, no windows on the ground floor and six to eight-foot thick walls that are three to four storeys high, complete with food storage, space for livestock, living quarters, temples, weapons and at times their own engineered sewage system. Completely self sufficient, people could live within the Tulou, without setting foot outside for months. There have been Tulous with diameters of nearly a 10th of a mile and covered area over 4,00,000 sq ft. A lot of them are over 1,00,000 sq ft, which could easily house entire clans or virtually a village of more than100 families. There are 30,000 Tulous in Fujian Province with more than 20,000 of those in Yongding County. Others are concentrated in the Nanjing and Hua’an counties. In each region they have been named differently — Hakka Tulou, earth dwelling, round stronghouse, or simply a Tulou.

Tulous were built between the 1300s and the 1960s with the oldest being more than 700 years old. They were originally courtyard style, built from sand, rammed earth, mud and pebbles mixed with bamboo strips for additional reinforcement, bound together with glutinous rice and brown sugar. Walls are so strong that they are immune to even cannon fire. The foundation is built with paved stones on top of compacted earth ground, in two to three tiers. There is a circular drain around the top tier foundation to prevent rainwater from damaging the Tulou wall. The walls were tapered inwards, such that the natural force of gravity pushes the wall together. The eaves usually extend about four to six feet, protecting the earth wall from damage by rainwater. The structure is supported on wooden poles. Staircases are located at four cardinal points, connecting the floors and the source of water located in the courtyard. Tulous are well lit, well ventilated and windproof, warm in winter and cool in summer. They have demonstrated incredible structural strength, withstanding earthquakes for centuries with no damage. For security, a Tulou has only one main gate, guarded by four to five-inch thick wooden doors, reinforced with an outer shell of iron plate. The top level of these earth buildings may also have gun holes for better defence.

In a typical Tulou of concentric rings, the outer ring’s towering walls have kitchens and animal stalls on the ground floor, storage rooms on the second and homes on the third and fourth floors. The inner most ring houses classrooms, and intermediate rings houses meeting rooms. In the centre is the ancestral hall with an altar, which the residents used for weddings, funerals or festivals. Mostly abandoned now, the Unesco  granted 46 of these Tulous the World Heritage Site status.

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