Framing Views
SJR 03 - 03 - 2010

An important design characteristic of Chinese Gardens is framing of views. The use of walls (thicker black lines) and of twisting paths (red lines) prevents the visitor to the garden from viewing the entire space at once. One can see from the plan of the Yu Gardens below that the walls divide the 5 acre garden. Due to this, gateways become very important. The other sketch is one of the gateways in the Master-of-Nets Garden. Buildings are also used to frame views. Looking back at the plan, one can see how the paths that wind through the garden bring people up at an angle to the buildings, so the first view is an isometric, just like at the Parthenon in Athens. This creates visual interest since the view isn't a straight on elevation, which tends to make buildings look very static. This angled approach also helps to frame views because rather than blocking a view or being centered in it, the building only is in part of the view which allows people in the garden to get a small glimpse of the garden beyond the building. This is the same concept of the gateways. A person can see just enough to know there is something beyond, but not enough to know what it is. This creates interest and causes the person to go and experience more of the space. The use of gateways and buildings to frame views and the use of walls to divide space allows the garden to keep the interest of the visitor. As our guide put it, the garden is supposed to be full of mystery and shouldn't reveal all of its secrets at once. This is in contrast to many designs in Western Europe and America. The designs there, like the gardens at Villa d'Este outside Rome, are oriented around a major linear axis, which often means a person in the garden can see most of the space, if not all of it at one time. My personal preference is the meandering paths and heightened sense of mystery and intrigue of the Chinese Gardens.

 

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