Title page for ETD etd-07252007-200726

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Chai, Dafang
Author's Email Address chaidafang@hotmail.com
URN etd-07252007-200726
Title Chinese Scholar Garden Detail with Grace of Rainwater
Degree Master of Science
Department Architecture
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Holt, Jaan Committee Chair
Emmons, Paul F. Committee Member
Yglesias, Caren L. Committee Member
  • Chinese Scholar Garden
  • rain
  • architecture
Date of Defense 2007-06-06
Availability unrestricted
Chinese Scholar Garden Detail with Grace of Rainwater


When the Astor Court / Ming Room was built at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1980, it attracted visitors from all over the world. Replicating the Master of Nets Garden, added in UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997, it was constructed in China, and shipped and assembled here. This first exported garden of the Peony Court is the only part of the garden suitable for the second floor site's limited load capacity. Standing in the Astor Court enclosed with twenty foot high walls around it and under the glass skylight, there's something missing of the natural condition; that is, the weathering test of rain and wind. Standing in the original garden, especially during the rain, there's a better understanding of the architecture. For example, the Cold Spring Pavilion has a soaring roof as an attractive feature and while people sketch from various corners, no one gets inside this half pavilion to sit. In the original garden, the Cold Spring Pavilion was placed as a spot to view a rainwater detail intricately designed. This detail reflects the water principles of Chinese garden design with the wholesome idea of respecting water and thus treating it with grace. This detail transforms the stain of weathering into a graceful architectural detail embracing the aesthetics of rainwater in 18th century Chinese culture.

This thesis tells the story of a series of intimate rainwater details in the Master of Nets Garden in Suzhou, China, known as the oriental Venice, where water is the essence of the culture. Originally built in 1174, re-built in 1765, it was last renovated in 1958 after it was donated to the government in 1950. It has withstood years of vicissitude. This paper argues for a connection between understanding rain and architectural design including aspects of space, material, technology, tectonic detail, aesthetic idea and the cultural meaning of rain. The ideology of rain as one aspect of Neo-Confucianism "Views of Nature of China" developed by Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi) (1130-1200) has continued to influence Chinese philosophy.

Research included critical readings of the garden literature, 12th century Chinese philosophy, and garden poems and paintings of the time. The essay includes an abbreviated garden history with an overview of architectural detailing for rain in Eastern and Western architecture from ancient times until today. An analysis of ancient Chinese characters for rain and garden are noted as a reflection of cultural ideas. Discussions with peer researchers, an architect practicing in Suzhou today, a Suzhou garden photographer and the Mayor of Suzhou support this research.

By examine every single drop of water along this fascinating series of details, missing in the Astor Court, this particular case study shows the presence of rainwater moving with the path we take from building to building in the garden, as a look back to nature. If we design a sensitive path based on understanding the fundamentals of nature, it will give us pleasure.

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