Throughout the entire book Chambers compares the chinese architectural design language with virtually ever other architectural style. At the very beginning of the preface he states that Chinese buildings are far inferior to European. He backs up his claim by referring to the singularity of material choice in Chinese buildings. He further describes his observations by pointing out the reoccurring forms and structures that are used throughout the majority of Cantonese buildings and how they are vastly different from western designs. Various paragraphs later, Chambers legitimizes the fact that he chose to include dresses and utensils in his book by stating that they might be usefully incorporated into western lifestyle – this further adds to the narrative of comparing western customs to Asian customs:
“To my designs of Chinese Buildings I have added some of their furniture, utensils, machines, and dresses. (…) some of them are pretty and may be useful to our cabinet makers. (…) I had by me designs of the Chinese dresses (…) some of them are picturesque and may be useful in masquerades and other entertainments of that kind, as well as in grotesque paintings.” In a different paragraph he describes Chinese columns: “Columns are at least as frequent in the buildings of the Chinese as in those of Europe. (…) the bottom of the shaft finishes in a quarterbacked round, a particularity found in some of the designs lately published by Capt. Norden of the antiquities of Egypt.” Chambers displays a wide knowledge of numerous architectural styles, managing to find similarities between his newly found Chinese buildings and Egypt antiquities.
The preface is followed by incredibly detailed paintings of said Chinese Buildings. I suspect that these illustrations serve to compare the intricacies of Asian architectural design with the western art of building. Most English men and women will have never laid their eyes on Chinese temples before Chambers had published “Designs of Chinese Buildings”. Completely foreign buildings coupled with Chambers preface incentivize the reader to compare the architectural styles with one another. Therefore, these paintings serve as some sort of souvenir cards one sends home from their journeys; recipients are able to imagine what these buildings must’ve looked like.
Another important aspect of Chambers work is his obsession with details. Each painting makes this obsession apparent: looking at these illustrations one can feel Chambers meticulously studying every crack and crevice of his subjects. From the grain of the stone embedded into the stairwell up to each ornament of the railing: every detail is beautifully drawn. He even goes as far as to draw the ornaments separately and in a larger scale in order for the reader to fully appreciate the attention to detail in Chinese buildings. This obsession is also reflected in his texts. He describes the intricacies of each detail in great length.
Comparison, Details, Obsession