USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Object and Landscape

Ryoanji is the master example of the ideas wabi, sabi, and ma.  The rock garden identifies all of these into a master precedent of the genre.  Fifteen rocks are arranged in such a way that one can never see every single rock at any particular time.  Each set of rocks lie upon a bed of moss that seem to drift in the raked gravel.  There is great meaning behind each and every nuance of this rock garden.  All of the rocks are never revealed at once to indicate how we will never be omniscient, never be able to see the full spectrum of life situation, and our thoughts will always be a point of view from a given context.  All these rocks float like islands among myriad gravel pieces, showing that we are only one of many things but simultaneously part of everything.  The raked gravel is also an example of how one cannot truly order and control nature- that our own controlled movements result in uncontrolled echoes.  Hence the Ryoanji rock garden is a concentrated microcosm of these core ideas that repeat throughout traditional architecture in Japan.

Seeing Kinkakuji and Ryoanji in the same day sparked my realization: the buildings of Kinkakuji are arranged amongst the landscape as the rocks of Ryoanji are arranged in its own landscape of raked gravel.  They are like objects in a greater landscape- monumental yet innately part of a vast canvas.  These objects do not blend into the landscape but seem to float within it.  At the same time, to remove one from its place would force a loss of the overall meaning.  Kinkakuji is not one lone pavilion set in the center of a symmetrical landscape.   One is given a grand view of the pavilion then forced to meander through the landscape to small shrines, all while being teased by specific framed views of the golden pavilion.  You never get to view everything at once, or get to understand a totality.  You are given calculated experiences to gather specific conclusions.  Furthermore the landscape Kinkakuji is set in is very much so like the raked gravel.  The highly controlled plant growth still cannot ordain the shape color or size of every leaf.


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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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