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Storeyed Building (Lou)

When the Chinese speak of a lou, they refer to any building of two or more storeys with a horizontal main ridge. The erection of such buildings began a long time ago in the Period of the Warring States (475-221 B. C. ), when chonglou ("layered houses") was mentioned in historical records.

Ancient buildings with more than one storey were meant for a variety of uses. The smaller two-storeyed buildings of private homes generally has the owner's study or bedroom upstairs. The more magnificent ones built in parks or at scenic spots were belvederes from which to enjoy the distant scenery. In this case, it is sometimes translated as a "tower". A Tang Dynasty poet upon his visit to a famous riverside tower composed a poem, two lines of which are still frequently quoted "To look far into the distance, go up yet one more storey".

Ancient cities had bell and drum towers (zhonglou and gulou), usually palatial buildings with four-sloped, double-caved, glazed roofs, all-around verandas and coloured and carved dougong brackets supporting the overhanging eaves. They housed a big bell or drum which were used to announce time, and the local officials would open the city gates at the toll of the bell early in the morning and close them with the strike of the drum in the evening.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties ( 14th to 20th century), in front of each city gate of Beijing stood an archery tower which formed a defence fortification. Two of them can still be seen today, at Qianmen and Deshengmen gates. Also in Beijing, a "corner tower" still remains relatively intact at the south-eastern corner of the old Inner City. It is put under state protection as a cultural relic, being the only one left in the ancient capital.

The art of constructing tall buildings was already highly developed in China during ancient times. Many multiple-storeyed towers of complex structure had wholly wood frameworks fixed together with dougong brackets without the use of a single piece of metal. Yueyang Tower in Hunan and Huanghelou (Tower of the Yellow Crane) in Wuchang are masterpieces among ancient towers.  

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