USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Gardens as Objects and Subjects

In The Everyday and Everydayness, Henri Lefebvre states that “there were, and there always have been forms, functions and structures. Things as well as institutions, ‘objects’ as well as ‘subjects’ offered up to the senses accessible and recognizable forms.”

These objects and subjects that Lefebvre speaks of resemble the qualities of Chinese and Japanese gardens, respectively. Chinese gardens become objects that one interacts with, while Japanese gardens become subjects which interact with the user.

Lefebvre writes of “structures, some of them natural and others constructed.” While both Chinese and Japanese gardens are essentially entirely manmade, they each have different characteristics and feelings. While Japanese gardens hold a sense of control over the user, Chinese gardens allow the user to meander freely. Yet, this sense of control and freedom does not present itself as one might assume.

Both Chinese and Japanese gardens are constructed to appear as organic occurrences in nature.

Japanese gardens are entirely fabricated by man. Each entity is meticulously placed on the site. Although Japanese gardens are essentially completely a composed product, these gardens appear to be the most natural. While in the garden, one must follow a set pathway. Even though one is essentially not allowed to stray from this delineated path, it feels as if though one is able to meander through the garden because of the path’s execution.

Chinese gardens feature an “organized passivity…it means passivity when faced with decisions in which the worker takes no part.” The worker, or user, meanders freely through the garden, and is at time not aware why they are on a certain path, or how they arrived there. There is no set pathway in Chinese gardens, and the user is given the option to meander, but it seems as if the pathway is set in stone and one cannot stray from it. Although still manmade and planned out, Chinese gardens allow nature to take its course. However, even though nature is allowed to flow naturally through Chinese gardens, these gardens appear to be the most manmade and synthetic.

The vastness of Chinese gardens give the user many choices. However, the user is slightly mislead in this sense of vastness. Lefebvre makes the point that “production produces change in such a way as to superimpose the impression of speed onto that of monotony.” The monotony within Chinese gardens is masked by the speed at which your surroundings appear to change. While moving from an artificial lake, to a bonsai garden, this slight change in environment allows one to feel as though they are moving through to a different space entirely, only to once again find that one is pushed o a different synthetic body of water, only this time in the form of a river.

The small amount of nature which is allowed to prevail in Chinese gardens does not appear as organic, and instead, emerges with a manmade and faux appearance. While neither of the two garden typologies come anywhere close to a truly natural existence, Japanese gardens have the ability to appear as so. Where Chinese gardens fail at attaining a natural essence through a fabricated syntax, Japanese gardens succeed.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: China, chinese, Gardens, Japan, japanese


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



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