Asian landscape architecture and garden design in the twentieth century

Singapore skyline by Gyver Chang

Singapore skyline by Gyver Chang

Why were Asian garden design and landscape architecture such a disappointment in the twentieth century? There is much work which looks anti-ecological, anti-contextual, almost anti-human – and far too American or far too European (see note on Chinese context theory). Luckily, there are some exceptions, including the twenty-first century landscape designs for  King Abdullah International Gardens and the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Instead of writing an essay (which is is in fact what I have done for the final chapter of Asian gardens) I offer the short statement that the problems with Asian garden and landscape design in the 20th century resulted from a poor understanding of design history and theory. There were lacks of appreciation:

  1. by many landscape architects that their profession’s design theory was at least 4000 years old on 14  May 1863 ( Norman T Newton gives this day as ‘the first official use of the title Landscape Architect’ – he knew the art was older but his perception of the theory was post-1863)
  2. by the Asian clients and designers who believed Asia should be ‘modernized’ by being ‘westernized’
  3. by the World Bank and associated development agencies which were certain that western is better, because it is based on science , and because science is the ultimate criterion of truth
  4. by a host of architects, engineers and planners who believed too fervently in ‘master planning’ and therefore fostered the tragedy of feminine design
  5. by bankers and property developers who believed that calculation of short term profit was the way to distinguish good projects from bad projects
  6. by the abstract and anti-contextual nature of international modern design theory
  7. by an inadequate knowledge of Asian design history and theory

The corrective to these Seven Deadly Design Sins should be gulping that wonderful Asian virtue – HARMONY.  History matters, theory matters, science matters, beliefs matter, profit matters,  ecology matters, design matters, people matter -we all matter!

See also: Previous post on Asian gardens and landscapes

3 thoughts on “Asian landscape architecture and garden design in the twentieth century

  1. Christine

    Yes Harmony is important!

    The following text on ‘The Harmony of the Imagination and Understanding in Kant’s Aesthetics’ says of our ability to conceptualise and perceive objects;

    “..when these two faculties of imagination and understanding work well together, what results is harmony. Harmony of these two faculties is required for perception to work at all. Otherwise, if the imagination delivers to the understanding a set of empirical data too disparate to be able to be subsumed under concepts, the understanding fails to make sense of empirical sensation and conceptualize via its concepts. What results is not perception of objects, but a perception of something indeterminable, confusing, and meaningless.”


    1. peng

      But you know, the chinese LA scholars don’t cares about Kant, they care only whether harmony is the word that announced by the government, or even the previous chairman. sad

  2. peng

    I traced here for an chinese article by professor yang who cites your opinions , I am surprised as a foreigner you have absolutely an great insight. I focus on these problems as well, and especially on the traditional chinese garden history and theory.
    Are you the writer of Garden History, and translated in chinese by two professors from BJFU?


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