The two main types of Japanese garden design are almost perfectly complementary.  The first, “shakkei” or “borrowed scenery” involves the incorporation of distant scenery into the experience of the visit.  For example, shrubs may be trimmed and limbs of a maple tree pruned so that a distant mountain is perfectly framed.

  The other garden type, the courtyard, employs its elements – rocks, water, flowers, bushes, etc – to “create the illusion of more than can be seen”*.  Descendents of special gardens carefully arranged to enhance and facilitate tea ceremonies, the more modern urban courtyard gardens often include steppingstones, lanterns, and a ritual water basin in addition to raked gravel and greenery.

  In both cases nature is viewed as an ally – not something to be wrestled into submission.  All elements of each were (are) considered to be alive and importantly to remain alive.  They’d obviously change with the seasons and would impact the visitor differently with each turn.

  It may seem obvious (and should be obvious to an architect), but one of many formal techniques used to “borrow” scenery is called “capturing with window”.  It is far from the most subtle of methods, but effective nonetheless. 

  Once, in 16th century Japan the respected leader of early Edo culture Kobori Enshu criticized the garden of a powerful territorial lord for being cramped and confining.  Infuriated, the daimyo ordered an artificial hill removed and a window cut in the guesthouse to perfectly frame two mountains and a lakeshore.

  The small ravine behind our house can certainly not be said to have been cultivated exactly, but as you can see above the presence of the latter upon the former has been salubrious.  Especially during these few days of fall.

  The maple tree is on the west side of our house, just behind our second floor bedroom.  Was it not there, the tree’s leaves would bear the brunt of the full force of the sun every day.  The juxtaposition that does exist however serves to shield the leaves from most of the day’s direct sunlight.  Thus, once the photosynthetic pigments are drained for the season, those that remain are able to luxuriate.

  A fortuitous circumstance I’m sure all will agree.  At its peak, the quality of the light infuses one with an incredible spiritual tumescence.  As the days progress and familiarity is bred, the mind is led from one happy memory to another. School in New England, expansive western hillsides covered with Aspen, and oh ya, Maine just a couple weeks ago…

  “Although this house may lack solutions to a great many of its occupants’ ills, its rooms nevertheless give evidence of a happiness to which architecture has made its distinctive contribution.”  Alain de Botton  The Architecture of Happiness 

*Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden by Teiji Itoh

2 Responses to “”

  1. andrew Says:

    hey cool picture, It really speaks to what your article says. No matter how much one might try and conrtol the natural elements – it is never complete. Picture a paved parking lot absent of any natural element. Or is it? The sky still remains, as do the clouds, birds, wind, precipitation, etc. It is in one best interests to use nature in all its glory rather than try and push it out of the way. In summary, I agree.

    ps I miss you both and look forward to seeing you soon.

    double ps, can you spell check all my comments for me, thanks.

  2. Abby Says:

    hi dad…that is cool to think about. I just went upstairs to look!

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