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Layout Designs

Contrast with Gardens in the West
Layout is the essential factor of a garden that makes it different from other gardens. A few general points may be summarized following a brief comparison between a typical garden layout in China and that in the West.

The scenery of a typical Western garden is more often an extensive, open landscape, setting off the building standing at the center. The roads are straight, axis-like, lined by trees; trees, plants, and flowers are planted in symmetrical forms or lines. A Chinese garden designer may find such layout being too orderly (and boring, in a sense), geometrical and symmetrical everywhere.

In a typical Chinese garden, the layout feels much more liberal, although the scenery is hidden in quiet, closed places. A symmetrical layout is rarely desirable. The roads and corridors are mostly winding and zigzagging leading to places of repose. Trees and plantings are seemingly scattered. And architectures are by no means the focus of the scenery, but are to be “wrapped” by the surrounding elements as harmoniously as possible. It is better for water to flow and meander, disappearing at certain spot and reappearing at the next corner. The layout of a Chinese garden embodies much of Taoist principle, displaying a respect for nature. Though man-made, the garden should look as though made by nature.
Differences in the Layout Design of Western and Chinese Gardens

 Western Garden

 Chinese Garden

Layout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Layout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Buildings are the focus of the Western garden.

Architectural structures are wrapped and integrated harmoniously in the surrounding elements of the garden.

Layout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Layout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Open, extensive landscape.
Straight, axis-like roads.
Winding roads.
Smaller space enclosed by trees or walls.
Layout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Layout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Symmetrical, geometrical forms.
Neatness and order.

A symmetrical layout is hardly desirable in a Chinese garden. The various elements are to be arranged to look natural though man-made.


Common Layout Design Tactics
However, to look natural does not mean the various elements of the Chinese garden can be located at random. The garden is a work of art to display the culture of a Chinese intellectual, and is supposed to hold artistic interest to visitors. Various techniques are employed by designers to arrange the positions of various elements in the garden to create the best visual effects.


The method of contrast is most extensively employed in garden layout design. Frequent transitions between opening and shrinking in space, bright and dim in light, and large and small in size can effectively raise the visitor’s awareness of the aesthetic use of space.

In some gardens, the entrance to a garden is a narrow, zigzagging path lined by rockwork or bamboos. And as the visitor moves on, the view suddenly becomes open and bright in a much large space.

Architectural structures in Suzhou gardens look simple and elegant with whitewashed walls and black tiles. The white walls are a good foil or background to other elements such as bamboos, flowers, and rockwork. And black shadows cast by these elements on the white walls are artistically abstract and deforming, overlapping and flickering in different shapes, adding interest to the scenery.

Willows beside water are a method of contrasting views. The filmy, misty waving willow branches make the vista nearby only dimly available. 

Blocking/Separating Views

Except royal gardens, most Chinese private gardens are small in size. Yet, they are so masterly designed as to look large and elegant to the visitor. The secret lies in partitioning the space into smaller segments, each of which holds an relatively independent scenic view. The visitor is prevented from seeing the garden at a single glance, and has to move about as if enjoying an array of paintings at a gallery. The more partitions there are, the larger the garden looks. Common partitions to this purpose include walls, corridors, artificial hills, and trees.
A mysterious beauty can be created by appropriately hiding the scenery behind something else. In the Chinese garden, a magnificent view is often partly concealed and suddenly unfolds as the visitor moves (say, passes a gate or turns a corner following a winding little path), adding a deeper and serene attraction to the scenery. The technique is well illustrated in the scenery of Yipu Garden.
Layout Designs, Chinese Classical GardensLayout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Guess what is behind the moon-gate on the right? (YIpu Garden, Suzhou)

Behind the moon-gate, there lies a whole courtyard. (Yipu Garden, Suzhou)

Layout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Waterside willows purposely planted to block the view of the architectural structures. The colours (red, green, white, black) also constitute lively contrasts, setting off each other.



Borrowing Views

Distant views can be incorporated harmoniously into the garden’s scenery, as though they are part of the garden. The mirror-like water can hold a fascinating view of inverted hills, trees, blue sky and white clouds. A most successful use of this method is the Humble Administrator’s Garden, where the profile of pagoda of the distant Beisi Temple is perfectly merged in the garden’s scenery.
Layout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

The profile of the distant pagoda is ingeniously borrowed into the Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou.


Framing Views

Just as an artist frames a certain subject within the painting, the views in a garden can be emphasized in a similar way by setting up screens to block undesirable views while opening only to the scene’s most striking parts. It is common for the visitor to find in a Chinese garden such details as moon-gates and lattice windows or openings on a corridor-wall in various shapes, which are designed for this purpose. 
Layout Designs, Chinese Classical GardensLayout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Scenes framed by the moon-shaped openings of the Diaoyutai (Fishing Platform) Pavilion, Slender West Lake, Yangzhou

Views enhanced by looking through a wall opening, Heyuan Garden, Yangzhou

Layout Designs, Chinese Classical GardensLayout Designs, Chinese Classical Gardens

Rockwork placed near the gate, forming a framed picture.

The scenes of pavilion and pond framed by the wood decorations of a waterside pavilion, The Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou.



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