On a recent client visit to Shanghai, fellow designer Susan Crow and I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Yuyuan Gardens in the heart of the Old City. Our host was most gracious and surprised us with this afternoon tour, and speaking for myself, it was easily the most beautiful part of our travels. Nothing here I say will enlighten anyone who knows a thing or two about Chinese gardens, but given that this blog centers in part around designing beautiful things, I humbly offer my simple impressions.
One design principle that comes to mind in reflecting on the Yuyuan Gardens is that of contrast. Coal black tiled roofs that drop to meet fire-soaked red walls. Emerald green waterways filled with bright orange koi. Meticulously formatted interiors framed with lush, rolling landscapes
"The design of the classical Chinese garden is based upon the principle of subtle balance and compromise between Order and Chaos, hard and soft, straight and curved, wet and dry, light and dark, so that the interplay between them may be felt or seen from different vantage points, like Truth itself. The ideal of aiming for contrast and balance, for a median position between extremes, has been proclaimed by many great thinkers East and West, ancient and modern."
- The Poetry of the Chinese Garden, Jan W. Walls
"Mingling with Truth among the flowers,
words don't mean a thing."
The most memorable aspect of the Yuyuan Garden highlighted by our host was that of perspective, specifically vantage point. Again, I am no expert, but one becomes aware rather quickly that the continuous visual and sensory delights you seem to "stumble" upon are in no way an accident. They seem never-ending.
Standing in one spot one could observe a hundred compositions. Move a little to the left or right and you are treated to countless more. I had to force myself to let my camera rest and just be a part of what I was experiencing. One couldn't help but to think of those who designed this space so many years ago, and what incredible foresight and skill they possessed. What a delight it was to interact with their timeless creation.
By no means do these images do justice to the Yuyuan Gardens. First off, these pictures were all captured with my iPhone, and second it's my opinion that no photograph can truly convey the sensorial interaction you experience there. They are for me, however, little reminders of the basic ideas at work in a special place like Yuyuan Gardens. Stop to notice where you are in the world; then turn around and look to see another completely different configuration.
"Complementary ideas are opposing ideas that add up to much more than the sum of their parts. They complement each other like night and day, male and female.”
- For Love of the Lotus, written in the 11th century by Zhou Dun-yi
This beautiful tree reminds me of what our host said when I asked about the origin of bonsai (thinking bonsai was really from Japan). He said Bonsai started in China, but the Japanese found the art form and then did it better, so they are most associated with the art. Just like Pizza, which really originated in China, the Italians gave it there own spin and suddenly it's Italian...
For more information, visit yuyuantm.com.cn
Alan Pepin / Creative Director
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