EET 02 - 24 - 2010

The last few days have been spent in a variety of Chinese gardens, observing and admiring the principles with which they were designed. Walking through a Chinese garden is a unique experience, different both visually and emotionally from the way that we normally think of gardens. First of all, Chinese gardens are incredibly experiential, with meandering paths that encourage wandering, with spaces very conducive to self-reflection and singular experiences. Meant to be an emotional experience, Chinese gardens emphasize the human connection to nature. The idea that nature is life, life equal to that of human life, is a principle that needs to be respected in these gardens. These gardens use built structures, whether former residences or temples or both, to separate the individual garden spaces. This allows each of the spaces to almost be treated as extensions of these structures and seen as outdoor rooms. Each room uses the same essential materials (stone, vegetation, and often water) in different manners to create varied emotional experiences. Depending on the simplicity or formality with which these materials are being used, experiences can be tailored accordingly. Stone is often used in its natural state around water features and in vertical elements to be reminiscent of their native setting, as well as in a more polished and designed format to create patterns and visual interest. Vegetation is treated in an almost sacred manner because it is considered to be life worth our attention and respect. Often visitors cannot walk on any type of vegetation including grass and are encouraged to stay along the designated paths, which must be one reason for the extensive path system that Chinese gardens often feature. Water is a very important element in Chinese gardens as well. It is used as a serene design element, encouraging calm, passive behavior. It is often used to reflect the surroundings, whether that be the buildings and structures or the visitors themselves, further driving the concept of self-reflection. The importance of travelling over water is an experience that is seen in every Chinese garden, with zig-zag paths that discourage ancient spirits and ghosts from traversing the path because the belief is that they can only travel in straight lines. Gateways and portals provide glimpses into adjoining garden spaces and frame views of the garden features. These gateways also create interesting entrances into these spaces because each one is a different shape. The path system as mentioned before is an important element in Chinese garden design. Primary and secondary paths are used to maximize the varying ways in which to experience these spaces. And many entrances and exits are provided to allow visitors to create their own experiences. Although the path system may seem very unintentional, they are clearly designed to seem natural while still directing visitors with a purpose. [Below Image: View of Chinese Garden in Suzhou, featuring the zig-zag bridge.] [Right Image: View of gateway/portal in another Suzhou garden.]

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