Although the title might make you think otherwise, the book is not just about the design of Chinese buildings but is a depiction of a wide variety of lifestyles, customs, furnishings, and details of a foreign culture. Already in the first sentences of the introduction of the book he praises the diversity of Chinese culture and writes how difficult it is for him to limit himself to a few topics for a book. To be able to describe the buildings correctly, he also needs the description of tools, clothes and machines. In all the depictions he shows the diversity of observation and his own enthusiasm through exalted detail obsession.
Variety is also reflected in the amount of detail Chambers brings across in each observation. In each case, he draws collections of objects in their most diverse forms. For example, vases with many ornaments, or a variety of table legs and table frames, which contain interesting and diverse carpentry.
Throughout the book, the author incorporates many images that contrast between being close to life and portraying a situation versus coldly depicting architecturally precise, geometric observations. He strongly integrates the furnishings and use in the representation of the buildings analyzed. Thus, not only construction, but rather, as the title of the book reveals, design is to play a central role of the analyses. It is therefore drawn, according to Chambers, not only for those interested in Chinese building methods, but also for those interested in a then incredibly distant and foreign way of life.
Nevertheless, Chambers shows a religious and elitist society, so does not draw the life of ordinary people. Only some working tools and single fishing boats are illustrated in the book. And even though Chambers depicts the buildings and objects with the concept of enormously high detail, the surrounding context is missing throughout it. The drawings end in each case with the outermost wall of the building. The depictions are framed by white paper. This clearly sets a focus on the subjects he wants to depict and on which he places a focus.
Variety, Observation, Detail