Spirituality and Cosmology in Asian Architecture

Envisioning Paradise:

Palace and Garden


Hall of Supreme Harmony, Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Lion Grove Garden, Suzhou, China

Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou, China

Hall of Supreme Harmony, Forbidden City, Beijing, China

The Forbidden City was built in the early Ming dynasty.

Up to a million laborers worked on the project. To move an enormous stone cylinder as long as an elephant and as tall as a man, twenty-thousand peasants in the dead of winter created a huge ice path by pouring water on the frozen soil. Thousands of horses pulled the stone across the ice to the center of Beijing. Giant trees in Szechuan province were felled for the main halls, but it was found that they were too large to move. Workers had to wait until torrential rains washed the fallen logs into rivers, where boatmen steered the logs into the Grand Canal. From there they were floated north to Beijing and towed into the palace grounds.

The emperor resided in the Forbidden City in the fall, winter, and spring, but in the summer months retreated to summer palaces north of Beijing.

Hall of Supreme Harmony

The Forbidden City is laid out on an extremely formal plan. It is symmetrical and hierarchically arranged

All the important buildings run down the center, north-south.

The complex was laid out on a rectangle 3000 by 2500 feet surrounded by a wall and a moat.

In keeping with geomancy (fengshui), the main gate is in the south and the northern side is "protected" by the artificial "coal-hill".

All of the buildings were roofed with yellow tiles to symbolize the dignity and solemnity of the emperor. Only the Imperial family was permitted to wear yellow clothes or use yellow tiles.

Lion Grove Garden, Suzhou, China

The Lion Grove garden was first built in 1342 by a group of monks in memory of their teacher

The garden is approximately 10,000 square meters and contains 22 pavilions, 71 steles, and numerous other works of art.

The garden is famous for its rockery, which is mostly made of limestone taken from Taihu lake.

The rocks have been piled up into forms resembling lions.

The name of the garden "Lion Grove," came from a reference to lions in a Buddhist story which included descriptions of a rocky place in a bamboo forest (resembling the garden).

Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou, China

The Master-of-the-Nets Garden, was first laid out during the SongDynasty (960-1279) but was later abandoned.

It was restored in the 18th century by a retired official. Like many Confucian scholar-officials, he preferred the peace of nature to the wrangling of Court life. He is said to have remarked that he would rather be a fisherman than a bureaucrat. This is the origin of the garden's name.

This garden is divided into three parts: an eastern section, or residential area; a central section, or main garden; and a western section, or the inner garden.

The residential section of the garden is built with strict regard to the sumptuary regulation of the times. The front door is particularly notable for its ornamentation indicating the owner's courtly rank. Inside are numerous halls, each of which is connected separately to the central garden. All of the halls are placed on the standard north-south axis as is common in China.

The main garden has a large central pond (440 square meters) surrounded by a number of verandahs and walkways. In the pond is a small hexagonal pavilion of the type commonly found in other Suzhou gardens. Also in the pond is a small stone bridge called Yinjing Bridge (Leading to Serenity Bridge).


Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan

Katsura Imperial Villa, Kyoto, Japan

Shugakuin Imperial Villa, Kyoto, Japan

Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan

Ginkakuji Temple, known as the Silver Pavilion, was constructed 1484-1490.

Traditionally, Ginkakuji's design has been attributed to Yoshimasa's tea master, Shuko (1422-1502), but current scholarship suggests Yoshimasa designed it himself.

The present use of Ginkakuji as a temple began in 1490, when Yoshimasa died. Originally the pavilion was a private worship hall in the gardens of the larger mansion complex that Yoshimasa constructed in the eastern hills of Kyoto.

It consists of two floors, the first built in the residential style and the second in the Zen style. The first floor is known as the "Hall of Emptied Minds". The second floor is called "The Tower of the Sound of Waves".

A verandah overlooks the garden pond.

Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan

The Silver Pavilion is strongly influenced by the Zen aesthetic.

Traditional architecture of the time evoked the "pure land" of Japanese Buddhism by presenting a foretaste of the idyllic paradise to come, represented by a splendid landscape.

Zen introduced elements that required meditation to be understood. One example of this new methodology is a "watercourse" of rocks meant to suggest, but not replicate, a waterfall. Thus the viewer's mind has to imagine the rush of water.

Zen influence is evident in the division of Ginkakuji into an upper and a lower garden

The lower garden is designed in the "traditional" style

The upper garden incorporates Zen ideas: a stone "watercourse" cascades down the hill to the lower garden

Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan

The waterfall thirty meters to the east of Ginkakuji, called "the moon-washing falls," can be heard from inside the pavilion.

Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan

Reflects the aesthetic of the art of tea

Sabi: beauty of worn and rustic things

Wabi: poverty, quietness, solitude