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Dwelling compounds or quadrangles (Siheyuan) in Beijing are one important aspect of the city's architectural heritage.
Beijing's dwelling compounds are generally rectangular, with the four sides squarely facing the cardinal points. Almost every dwelling compound is surrounded by high walls, with an open courtyard in the centre. The buildings on four sides are usually one storey high.
Stepping over the high wooden base of the front gate of a large compound, you will find a brick screen located a few feet inside. In front of the screen is the outer courtyard, which is flanked by structures to the east and west. In former days, these were the kitchen and servants' living quarters. A red-painted gate leads through the north wall of the outer court into the inner courtyard. The main building faces south to get the maximum possible sunshine in winter, and the eaves provide a pleasant shade in summer when the sun is high.
The building is divided into three or five rooms: living or community rooms in the centre with smaller bedroom or studies at each end. The buildings facing east and west on each side of the court were constructed to accommodate married children and their families. Some dwelling compounds consist of several courtyards. With no steel or concrete, the entire dwelling was built of bricks and wood. The compounds are quiet, beautiful and compact. Beijing residents like to live in them and even foreigners find them attractive.
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