This thirteen story, 57.8 m (189 ft) tall, octagonal-based Chinese pagoda is made of brick and stone, yet imitates the design of wooden-constructed pagodas from the era by featuring ornamental dougong (bracket supports). It rests on a large square platform, with the bottom portion of the pagoda taking on the shape of a sumeru pedestal. The pagoda features a veranda with banisters, yet is entirely solid with no hollow inside or staircase as some pagodas feature. Other ornamental designs include arched doorways and heavenly Buddhist guardians. Its design inspired that of later pagodas, such as the similar Ming Dynasty era Pagoda of Cishou Temple of Beijing built in 1576.
Close up on carved reliefs
The structure and ornamentation have remained the same since the pagoda was built, but a major earthquake in 1976 caused the original pearl-shaped steeple of the pagoda to break off and fall. It has since been restored. The temple grounds surrounding the pagoda have also been renovated and rebuilt several times over the course of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The architectural historian Liang Sicheng (1901–1972)—known for discovering and documenting the oldest existent wooden structures still standing in China—lauded the Pagoda of Tianning Temple as a pristine architectural design of antiquity.