The Chinese garden arose out of an attempt to imitate nature. In order to imitate nature, a Chinese garden designers scrupulously avoided all strict geometrical layout that would recall man’s ordering hand. Inside a private Chinese garden, zigzag bridges, twist paths and winding watercourses all display the characters of freedom and irregularity. However, the freedom of layout in private Chinese gardens does not mean ancient Chinese people lacked the skills to handle geometrical lines. In fact, in ancient China, both the street plans of the city and plans of private houses followed a strict geometrical order with symmetrical axes. In architecture design, Chinese used symmetry to indicate their own dignity and prestige, and to express their social relationships and moral disciple inside the house. Ancient Chinese lived under the influence of the Confucius’s strict moral conventions. The private Chinese garden was built as a place for residents to escape from the restrictions of their home, and to help them fulfill the need for the free and romantic side of their spirit. Inside the garden, a Chinese behaved like a Taoist, who is carefree and romantic. The formal geometric pattern of the architecture serves for its owner’s serious mood and the irregularly naturalistic arrangement of the garden satisfies his lighthearted side. They seemingly stand in sharp contrast to each other. However, when one passes through a traditional Chinese building into its courtyard, through a moon gate into a gallery, and then enters the garden, through a twisting pathway to the building, he will experience the rhythmical alternation between the architectural and garden space.
Confucism and Taoism were harmoniously unified inside the spirit of the ancient Chinese people. The relationship of Chinese house and its garden implies to us a Chinese traditional philosophy, the Yin-Yan principle. Yin-Yan was regarded as a universal principle pervading all things, whether in the realm of physical nature or in the human spirit. This philosophical principle expresses itself in two opposite aspects: the negative and the positive force, the passive and the active element, the voids and the solids. These two opposites harmoniously juxtapose themselves inside all things. The Chinese architecture, which is ordered, unmoving, restrained and solid, presents the Yan character. The Chinese garden, which is free, irregular, changing and voidness, displays the Yin character. The private Chinese garden is not a subsidiary place, but a necessary counterpart to the house.
Some design techniques will be introduced which were followed by ancient Chinese people to follow the principle of Yin-Yan – the order of the universe, to achieve a harmonious relationship between the “solidness” of the architecture and the “voidness” of the garden. Some of them are still meaningful for contemporary architectural practice.
The plan of Yan's House, Fuzhou, Fujian. This plan shows that a fotmal geometric architecture and irregularly and naturalistic garden are deftly integrated.
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