The Gardens of Suzhou – Communications – By: L+A Landscape Architecture


Suzhou is well known for its collection of classical Chinese gardens built from the eleventh through the nineteenth centuries. In The Gardens of Suzhou, the author realigns the scholarship of these gardens away from their well-documented literary associations and symbolism toward an understanding based on visual proportions, spatial qualities, experiential sequences — and even urban ecology— in order to extend their influence in the contemporary discourse on gardens and landscapes.

The Gardens of Suzhou opens Suzhou’s gardens, with their literary and musical references, to non-Chinese visitors. Drawing on years of intimate experience and study, the author combines the history and spatial organization of each garden with personal insights into their rockeries, architecture, plants, and waters. Fully illustrated with newly drawn plans, maps, and original photographs by the author, The Gardens of Suzhou deftly addresses casual visitors, garden scholars, and design professionals as it adds substantially to the literature in English on Suzhou, one of the great cities for gardens in the world.

The new authoritative plans and superb black and white photographs amplify the visual and spatial knowledge described in the text. The author sees the gardens afresh, pointing out what is both ordinary and special, generic and unique, and lighthearted and grand. The gardens are presented as livable designed landscapes exemplary for their spatial composition, lively topography, sequential richness, and urban ecology in a way that advances the discourse on the gardens beyond the narratives embedded in their poetic allusions.

Unlike the acclaimed religious and imperial gardens found elsewhere in Asia, Suzhou’s gardens were designed by scholars and intellectuals to be domestic spaces that embedded China’s rich cultural references within the landscapes. The author establishes a series of topics with specific sites in each of the gardens to “pause and observe” — a device that aids perception but also adds striking clarity to the experience of the gardens which, as the author states, “confront the visitor with rocks, trees, and walls that are pushed into the foreground to compress and compact space, as if great hands had gathered a mountainous territory of rocky cliffs, forests, and streams, then squeezed it tightly until the entire region would fit into a small city garden.”

The Gardens of Suzhou was published in 2013 and widely distributed by University of Pennsylvania Press and Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture. This series, edited by John Dixon Hunt, is dedicated to the study and promotion of a wide variety of approaches to Landscape Architecture with special emphasis on connections between theory and practice. It is a paperback book with 173 pages, bibliography, and index. Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, a leading peer-review journal for library professionals, “highly recommended” The Gardens of Suzhou for academic and general readers:

Other books, such as B. Rinaldi’s, The Chinese Garden, contain information about Suzhou’s gardens but (author’s) experience in his visits to these gardens gives him a most personal point of view. This is perhaps best exemplified by a section called “Pause and Observe” at the end of each garden description. These provide valuable suggestions that (the author) calls a plea to the garden visitor to stop for several minutes to allow the garden to come to them. (Kavaljian, L.G., Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, August 2013.)

The book was published with a grant from the J. Paul Getty Trust, which provided a finer finish on the paper used in the publication as well as a more durable French fold cover. The first printing was 3,000 copies.

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