USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The Synthetic Garden

Transferring from a metropolis like Tokyo to a city like Kyoto was an interesting experience.  We went through two divergent cities in a matter of about three hours, so the atmosphere in Kyoto took a little bit of getting used to. Going from Tokyo – a city that seems to never sleep – to a city like Kyoto – a city that often seems to exert a sense of tranquility – threw me for a loop.  From Kyoto’s historical shrines, temples, pavilions, and gardens to simply its scenery immediately offered an opportunity for relief from the life of the city.

Before arriving in Kyoto, we had been discussing the idea of reality.  What actually constitutes a part of reality?  If a landscape is manmade, does it make it no longer real and authentic?   Once a garden is designed, the scenery and the landscape become the ideas of the designer.  The natural environment subsides and the simulated environment conquers.  This notion of reality became something I had been rethinking throughout our time in Kyoto, trying to grasp the perplexing idea of it all.  Prior to this program, I had thought of all of nature as the one piece of reality that this world still embodies.  After all, nature designed or not, is still made up of the same foundations: plants, water, earth, etc.  It did not seem like it could get more real than that before this concept of what is reality was brought forth.  I now have myself questioning reality consistently.

What better place to contemplate the reality of designed landscape than in a traditional Japanese garden?  Looking out at the zen garden in Ryoanji Temple, I felt completely serene, regardless of all the people surrounding me.  The pamphlet we received in the temple states, “It is up to each visitor to find out for himself what this unique garden signifies.  The longer you gaze at it, the more varied your imagination becomes.”  The first thing that came to mind while I was looking through the garden was meditation.  However, then I began to think about reality.  How could something so synthetic have the ability to put one into a meditative state and cleanse the mind?  Every aspect about the gardens is choreographed: the sequence of the journey, the plant-life, and the animal-life, but it still provides an overwhelming sense of stillness.

Given that these gardens in the Ryoanji Temple offered such a strong influence on the mind, is the idea that the gardens could almost all be considered as fabricated a negative connotation?  Does one get into the same meditative state in a natural, undersigned environment as he or she would in a traditional Japanese garden?  That does not usually seem to be the case.  Is it the artificiality that is providing us with the feeling of peace while in the landscape, or is it the landscape itself?  Visitors of the gardens would definitely not get the same emotional impression if the gardens had no plot.  Is the false reality of the garden really such a bad thing or is it the best part about the garden?



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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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