USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Complexities of Landscape and Architecture

After recently vising three Suzhou Gardens [Master of the Nets, Humble Administrator Garden, and the Lingering Garden], I noticed that they all follow the same concept of multiple points of view focused towards a particular item of interest. Although their sizes varied, all three created a wonderful narrative using nature that is supplemented by architecture. The Japanese and Korean gardens did have built forms that were in the gardens, but spatially served different purposes. I would argue that the surrounding clusters of rooms and courtyards in the Chinese scholar gardens have a similar level of spatial complexity as the gardens themselves. Consequently, the built form and landscape can be appreciated either together or separately.

The Chinese gardens are manicured, but not to the extent of the Japanese gardens where everything is trained to be in a perfect position. Also,the scholar gardens have an item of focus, typically a lake, or a pavilion that can be seen from multiple angles. In contrast, Japanese gardens dictate particular paths and has one panoramic moment of reflection as the end of the garden blurs seamlessly into the natural backdrop behind it. Korean gardens are expansive forests of specific plantings and grow naturally, giving it an aura of unknown adventure. In contrast to both, Chinese gardens sequence these various frames and moments around the same object using winding paths, giving the garden a larger feel than it actually is.

I spent most of my visit in the landscape portion of the compound, and coneqeuently, needed more time to look at the courtyard spaces surrounding the gardens. Each cluster of rooms is connected through a labrynth of pathways that surround the perimeter of the garden. The courtyards have a smaller planting or rock sculpture so the inhabitants inside can focus the views outdoors. After a few minutes of wandering, I forgot that the garden was right beyond the wall, and appreciated these smaller and more isolated spaces. In comparison to the Suzhou gardens, the Japanese ones utilized the built form as a mediation between interior and exterior [together], while the Korean gardens used the physical architecture as a place to enjoy the garden [separate] to the point where the landscape engulfed the actual garden.

When proceeding from room to room in the scholar gardens, there is a constant compression and expansion of space. By reducing the ceiling height of the walkway that leads into the next courtyard, the release into the open space is accentuated. The same effect could not have been achieved if the spaces were all uniformly scaled. This contraction and expansion also contributes to a garden’s ingenious use and complex layering of space. Rather than using architecture to achieve the same effect, the Japanese and Korean gardens thickened the landscape around paths.

The Chinese, Korean, and Japanese gardens evoke various of emotions with the use of space, architecture and nature. Regardless of these different reactions, all Asian gardens effectively mediate the tensions of the city with their introverted nature. They remove and transplant you into a completely new world of fantasy, adventure, and reflection. In Japan, the sequencing of the garden started right from the street scape, gradually removing me from the business of the city surrounding it. Rather than use physical walls, the Japanese used the landscape and vegetation to mediate this built density surrounding it. In Korea and China, there were physical manifestations of separation from the city. The entrance gates are grand enough to offset the city’s proximity to the garden. I was immediately transported away from the city with one step past these gates, which is a different than the Japanese method, yet just as effective in mediating the city. These small instances of relief from the largeness and stress of the city, make their relaxing and reflective qualities even grander.


Filed under: Architecture, China, compression, expansion, Humble Administrator Garden, Japan, Korea, Landscape, Lingering Garden, Master of the Nets, separation, spatial complexity, together


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