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Culture Reflections Embodied in Modern Architecture: An Analysis Symbolic Meanings of Classical Chinese Garden Design Elements and Principles

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Instructional Innovations and Global Issues in Architectural Engineering Education

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Page Numbers

25.373.1 - 25.373.10



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Paper Authors


Suining Ding Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne

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Suining Ding is an Associate Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. Her research interests include Digital 3D modeling, cross-cultural comparison of architecture, design methodology and design process, cognitive perceptions of interior space, and relationships of human behavior and environment.

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Culture Reflections Embodied in Modern Architecture: An Analysis Symbolic Meanings of Classical Chinese Garden Design Elements and PrinciplesIntroduction When people walk into a space or built environment, people should feel the designintention made manifest through visual clues. Amos Rapoport stated that the built environmentholds meaning as part of a cultural system of symbols, and influences our actions and ourdeterminations of social order (Rapoport, 1990). It also has been a consensus that designers mustunderstand the effect of the physical manifestation of design on people in the body of knowledgeof the interior design profession (Martin & Guerin, 2005). Therefore, understanding the symbolicmeanings conveyed by design elements become crucial for designers. This study is to analyzethe classical Chinese garden design elements including water, plants, architecture, rocks andtracery windows (borrowed views) in modern architecture designed by I.M. Pei as a case study.The purpose of this study is to reveal symbolic meanings that interpreted by classical Chinesegarden design elements in modern architecture. Findings illustrate distinct approaches ofutilizing Chinese garden design philosophy and principles in modern architecture that embodiedculture reflections.Review of Literature Pei employed a lot of traditional Chinese symbolism in his Suzhou Art Museum. He builtit on a symmetrical north-south axis, which is one of the design principles of Chinesearchitecture. It allows the building to take advantage of the suns warmth and reflections (Figure 2in Appendix). The structure is built to surprise the visitor when walking down the windinginterior corridors offering tracery windows with a view of the central courtyards and gardens.Traditional garden elements are prominent. There is the main garden, with eight small gardens.Every angle has a garden view. From the outside, the buildings reflect the traditional Suzhouprivate garden style; it is in harmony with its surrounding atmosphere. The five garden designelements are used in the design of the garden, such as local Taihu stones and rocks, water,bamboo, and a walking bridge that zigzags across the pond. Stone is the skeletal structure of theworld and is used her as sculpture. Water is qi energy and is balanced with the rigidity of stone.The bamboo represents uprightness, and the flowers to add color and to present the four seasons.In the main garden is special Chinese stonework ”ink-wash painting”. Pei uses the white wall aspaper; stone as paint, creating a unique visual effect with granite replicate a miniature mountainof abstract sculpture.Purpose and Method The purpose of this study is to analyze and interpret the classical Chinese garden designelements including stone, water, architecture, plants, literature and arts as well as borrowedview(tracery window), as a form of symbolic culture reflection in modern architecture. Thisanalysis is based on the methods of historical inquiry and literature review. Data sources includegraphic and written representations as well as a case study. An overview of images of designelements of classical Chinese garden may be seen in Figure 1 in Appendix. Findings illustrate distinct approaches in reflecting culture heritage in modern builtenvironment through symbolic forms. This study proposes four major design strategies tointerpret the symbolic meaning of culture heritage: nature, poetic and painterly concept, sceneryand track, as well as mystery and wonder. Nature elements in design refer to landscaping, water,court yard and stone. All these design elements are integral part of classical Chinese garden thatcreate poetic and painterly feelings, creating a place of natural beauty with a serene and elegantatmosphere. (Liu, 1989). Through the use of this concept, a unique garden architecture wascreated. Poetry, prose, painting and music in China are interrelated and were used to expressinner feeling through symbolism. Garden design, nevertheless, was different from poetry orprose. The media are not brush or paper, but rather a process, where there is never a final strokeof the pen or a last word, and which is in a continual state of change. It is the placement of theelements which make a garden – such as water, rocks, trees and flowers, buildings and space-and the utilization of the effects of natural phenomena – the change of seasons, light, color,shadow and sound to achieve aesthetic feelings and evoke associations between objects and theobserver (Liu, 1989). All kinds of gardens contain buildings. In addition, gardens are enclosed bypavilions, verandahs, hall and walls. Buildings in a garden serve to “frame” or emphasize a goodview. All these elements in the garden are connected by covered verandahs, which createmystery and wonder in the garden. The verandahs on both sides of the wall become what iscalled double verandah and the wall between them can be pierced with tracery windows to unitethe two spaces visually. Sometimes a verandah is built over water on stilts, looking very muchlike a covered bridge. More mystery and wonder would be presented to observers whenverandahs are in zigzag form, following the shape and slope of the site. Sometimes it will bendon the way up a hill, reach an edge of a pool, pass through flowerbeds and cross valleys, twistingand seemingly there is no end. Although the verandah was built for circulation, it is not intendedto reach its destination in a hurry. One could stop and wonder, read at the table and watchscenery and turn to wonder another mystery and pose again. The main purpose was to strollleisurely and wonder around for more attractions. Sometimes it appears that the walker reachesthe end of a path, but with a sudden turn there is another path or another open space. There isalways something unexpected to see which surprise the visitor. These four design strategies aidin the understanding the symbolic meaning interpret in the modern architecture through symbolicforms.Conclusion The four design strategies set forth in this study assist in understanding the symbolicmeaning of Chinese Garden design elements in modern built environment - SuZhou Art Museumdesigned by I.M.Pei. An analysis of these design strategies (Figure 3 in Appendix) also assist andinform an examination of how future design could utilize classical Chinese garden designprinciples and philosophy. References (APA)Liu, L. (1989). Chinese Architecture. Academy Editions, LondonMartin, C. & Guerin, D. (2005). The Interior Design Profession’s Body Of Knowledge. InteriorDesign Educators Council. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from, Amos, (1990). The Meaning of the Built Environment: A Nonverbal CommunicationApproach. University of Arizona Press.Appendix Chinese Garden Design ElementsVerandahs with tracery windows and Zigzag bridges over the pond lead to more mystery andwonder Water, Plants, Stones and Rocks Tracery Windows (Borrowed Views) Figure 1: Classical Chinese Garden Design Elements SuZhou Art Museum – Designed by I.M.PeiThe west wing was designed longer (seems more interesting), and had a water fall at the end ofthe hall way, so the sounds of water can be very attractive to visitors. So it leads people turn leftand see west wing first. There are many tracery windows in the hallway.A symmetrical north-south axis is designed to locate the building, which is one of the designprinciples of Chinese architecture. It allows the building to take advantage of the sun warmth andreflection. The colors of the building are gray, black and white, which are typical colors inclassical private garden in SuZhou. Figure 2: SuZhou Art Museum Case Study – Design Analysis Symbolic Meaning Design Elements in Classical Interpreted in SuZhou Artdesign strategies Chinese Garden Museum one main garden and eight landscaping, water, courtyard, small gardens - Taihu stones natural Taihu stones and rocks, walking and rocks, water, bamboo bridge presents uprightness, the flowers to add color and to present the four seasons poetry and painting to express inner feeling through Chinese stonework "ink-wash poetic and symbolism, a process to painting". Pei used stone topainterly concept achieve aesthetic feelings and form a scene according to evoke associations between painting in Song Dynasty objects and the observer made west wing longer (seems more interesting), and had a water fall at the end of buildings, pavilions, verandahs, the hall way, so the sounds ofscenery and track hall and walls, tracery windows water can be very attractive to visitors. So it leads people turn left and see west wing first. Many tracery windows verandahs in zigzag form, mystery and following the shape or slop of zigzag walking bridge across wonder the site, tracery windows on the pond verandah walls Figure 3: Design Strategies

Ding, S. (2012, June), Culture Reflections Embodied in Modern Architecture: An Analysis Symbolic Meanings of Classical Chinese Garden Design Elements and Principles Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21131

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