September 26, 2015 § Leave a comment
We celebrated a good round of meetings with a day in Suzhou, a city full of 16th and 17th century gardens a couple of hours west of Shanghai (meaning, really, the suburbs). Suzhou was a favorite weekend destination when I was here in 1988, and it’s one of the places where I remember starting to realize that architecture was more than pretty drawings–that space could do something to you cognitively, spiritually, emotionally…The gardens here are all classical Chinese, and they all have in common a sense of composition and wandering that fills all of the senses with glimpses of what’s to come, layers of architectural and natural elements, and a very cleverly arrayed palette of materials under foot, gripped by the hand, and seen by the eye. And even if they’re much more than visual, they’re still a feast for the camera…last time I had my trusty Minolta and a brick of Tri-X black and white film, this time the iPhone was it.
One of the main gardens was designed by Wen Zhenheng, a garden designer whose masterpiece was actually a 12-volume treatise called “On Superfluous Things.” An irresistible title, one that alludes to the fact that he was working for the extreme leisure class. Subjects covered? “Flowers and Trees,” and “Water and Stones,” pretty obvious fare for a garden designer. But also “Chairs and Beds,” “Utensils,” and “Vegetables and Fruits.” There’s a full English translation available, full report to follow eventually.
The gardens were all owned by gentry of one form or another, including a state censor whose legacy is the “Humble Administrator’s Garden.” That’s a gift to anyone seeing it with their Department Chair…