Chinese gardens can be viewed as a special time-space model which embodies traditional Chinese scholars’ world view and through which they expressed their reflection on life and the universe.
From the late Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, scholars in Jiangnan, region, south of the Yangtze River, had been obsessed in creating micro worlds within the enclosure of walls by winding and zigzagging, and everything was brought into these worlds by such folding actions. In these world view models, the scholars spent their time appreciating the changing of seasons, playing their games and pondering over life and the world. Winding entails an action, embodied in the repeating zigzags of a veranda; winding is also a journey, which persists in the memories of tours in twists and turns or branching routes. It’s concrete in the eye while abstract in the mind.
Inspired by a series of winding fragments I encountered in these gardens, I began creating the Winding Model series. These fragments respectively are: the twisting and turning verandas in the Lion Forest(Garden?), the eight winding and branching verandas in the Humble Administrator’s Garden, and the twisting circular yards which are commonly seen deep in Suzhou gardens. I regard all these pieces as tiny models for “winding”.
Based on the above, I have designed five experiments, which finally turned out to be five speculation models for re-exploring different meanings of the concept “winding”. These models are: the Cloud Ladder, the Ring Museum, Tea house of Twists and Turns, the Branching Library, and House Chui Linglong.
Cloud Ladder 云梯
Invited by an art exhibition, I made a purely conceptual but enterable model to discuss winding. The small rockery beside the Mandarin Duck Hall in the Humble Administrator’s Garden can be understood as three separate ascending paths compressed in a small volume covering a 3m×3m plot. My works is restricted in a 2.5m × 2.5m plot, and I designed two spiraling paths which interweave with each other, ascending together to a height of 6m. The paths come across and pass each other at some points, concealed in a cube of minimalism.
An essential feature of minimalism statues is to involve as few materials and types of joints as possible, so I used only one kind of material ( prefab pine wood with 3.5cm × 3.5cm section) and only one type of joints to build up the whole structure. The wood pieces are arranged at an interval of 17cm in the vertical direction and an interval of 20cm in the horizontal direction. The white step boards of the stairs fit this construction system naturally, that’s how I managed to change the cold impression of a minimalism statue’s appearance with two winding stairs inside, and it then becomes an accessible statue containing a space, or to say, a minimalism rockery. The Cloud Ladder just refers to the two white tracks hidden in the cube.
Photographer/editor: li Chongjing
In-sit constructors: Chen Jiahui\ Zhu Changfu\ Shen Zhihua\Zhang Quan\Jin Zedong \Luo Yaqin\Wang Tiantian
Ring Gallery 环形美术馆
Quite a few gardens of the Ming and Qing Dynasties can be summarized as ring gardens where the route is “wandering around ponds”. Winding weakens the impression of circle, and branching generates multiple circular routes.
So I started my design from this brief conclusion. I conceived such a gallery, of which the core spacial structure is three square rings crossing with each other, and there are different exhibition rooms and court yards arranged along these loops. Apart from a few exceptions, each exhibition room has northwards clerestories covered by shed roof. The ring paths are concealed by these rooms imperceptually, only from different intervals and density of the lattice above the paths can visitors recognize in which ring they are walking. Aimless visitors can pretend to wander about in an orthometrically winding maze, and those who are in a hurry can tell from the lattice ceiling which direction to take.
There is no visible winding form, but attributed to the three orthometrically crossed circular paths, visitors can enjoy a continuously winding journey. One can see through different rooms from openings in different directions, and just like the Stone Forest Yard in the Lingering Garden, some spaces are only for the eye but inaccessible. Some spaces are actually inaccessible, for they are only for the eye.
Teahouse in Twists and Turns 峰回路转茶室
The winding verandas in existing gardens in Jiangnan fall into at least two types. According to different supporting components, one type is with walls along one side and columns along the other side; the other type is supported by columns along both sides. With winding walls concealing the sceneries behind, the first type of winding veranda always produces some tricky and dramatic effects, while the second type can render space very intriguing with the juxtaposition of columns.
As to this design experiment, I attempt to combine the sensations of these two types of space, and hence this Tea House in Twists and Turns comprising of columns and plain walls. Besides, we can take the winding verandas in the existing gardens as substantialized moments of the action of winding. We can imagine that before the final form was settled, there had been numerous similar twists and turns. And I conceived a tea house as such: It consists of nine small houses, which are in similar sizes and supported by thin steel columns. Each of them has an unique sloping roof, and is connected to one another at the corners in different angles. Each house is surrounded by scattered short walls, and each intersection of the houses generates transition in space, forming yards of different sizes.
Stepping into the interior, a visitor can see that all the thin columns are arranged at different depths of field, and so are the sceneries in between. Looking up to the sky through the cracks between roofs, he will find himself lost in the subtle atmosphere of space; sometimes a piece of rammed earth wall blocks the visitor’s vision, and that may stimulate his curiosity to go beyond. When he’s tired of walking around, he can take a seat anywhere he likes to have a rest. The place could be a courtyard full of trees and flowers, and a narrow yard with a few bamboos is also satisfying.
Branching Library 分岔图书馆
Enlightened by《the Garden of Forking Paths》written by Jorge Luis Borges, I recognized a small model of garden formed only by winding paths crossing each other in the Humble Administrator’s Garden’s eight winding and branching verandas. I regard these verandas as a winding and branching model, as well as a circular model of twists and turns. Such space type may be rather comparable to a library, which is perfect for an aimless reader wandering in a world of books. Based on this winding model in the Humble Administrator’s Garden, I conceived a library. It consists of four tubular structures, three of which intersect with each other in a way that each tube is held by the ground on one end and held by another tube on the other end. Thus they form a triangle, and the fourth one crosses over two of the three simultaneously, marking off two triangular gardens.
Inside each square tube, there are stuffed bookshelves occupying one wall, while on the other wall, which is towards the garden, there are many openings letting in light and pleasant views. A reader can approach this branching library from any end on the ground, with the ground ascending gradually, he sets off to find interesting books, stops for a while as he likes, reading or just enjoying the view from the garden. Where the tubes touch each other are where the branches reach out, and different spaces are available for him at those points. The branching points are the most complicated spaces in the library; they offer the reader multiple choices.
In one word, this is a library where one can wander about the world of books, seek for knowledge, or just appreciate the view.
House Chui Linglong “翠玲珑”自宅
This interior design of the author’s house is kind of experiment I’ve been doing with Yaqin my wife. For long we’ve taken Chui Linglong (the Jade and Exquisite Study) of the Surging Waves Pavilion Garden as a paragon to comprehend the essence of gardens. It goes beyond the gap of times, it belongs to the past and meanwhile can be understood by a contemporary person who’s not quite familiar with the history. It’s a zigzag model within an already existing orthometric system. By intuition, both Yanqin and I hope to position a Chui Linglong structure into our apartment which is about 80㎡ and consists of two bedrooms and a living room.
To some degree, to construct a garden is to is to loosen the rigid living mode. The structure of Chui Linglong transcends the fixed room classifications which are limited by function, and it can be understood either as three small rooms or one large room of continuity. We positioned the Chui Linglong structure inside, and it extends from the entrance in the northwest to the southeast end, connecting the remotest two points in the apartment. What we conceived is neither an apartment which is strictly cut into small rooms, nor one large space that is without any necessary division, and such structure has achieved the balance.
While our House Chui Linglong does share similar space structure with Chui Linglong in the Surging Waves Pavilion Garden, it wasn’t so entitled because of such structural similarity, but because the name is literally a lively description of how visitors feel inside the original Chui Linglong: The dense bamboo grove spreads its verdancy into the room through the lattice windows, producing an atmosphere of green (chui) and exquisiteness (linglong). The feeling of green can hardly be maintained if this zigzag model is positioned not in bamboo grove but in a typical contemporary apartment, even if the limited balcony is filled with bamboos. So how about the exquisiteness?
From my point of view, linglong refers to a homogeneous limpidity. The dense grids of the lattice windows in the Surging Waves Pavilion produce a flat exquisiteness, and what I hoped to create is a kind of exquisiteness in thickness. I designed a wooden framework with the unit of a 300×300×300mm cube, which includes the suspended ceiling and the elevation construction, dominating all the details in the Chui linglong area. It serves as bookshelves, suspended ceiling and other furniture.