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  Landscape Northwest '99

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Landscape Northwest '99
April 1, 1999

Building a landscape bridge to China

By JAMES DAWSON
Seattle Chinese Garden Society

Chinese stonecarver
Stonecarver preparing column base for Song Mei Pav-ilion prototype, Chongqing.
The Seattle Chinese Garden has begun providing educational and cultural benefits that will serve the Pacific Northwest in perpetuity even before it is built.

When the garden's first architectural feature, the Song Mei Pavilion, arrived at the future site of the garden this winter, more than 120 school children were there to welcome it. Asked about the features of the garden, they talked about architecture, rocks, water and plants. They drew vignettes. And they began to think about the melding of China's millennial history, art and architecture, philosophy, literature and horticulture into one comprehensive work of art.

The Song Mei Pavilion, a small open-air structure with a flared roof, is the first visible component of a proposed 6-acre classical Chinese garden at South Seattle Community College. The pavilion will be assembled this spring by visiting Chinese craftsmen. However, years of discussion and planning have led to this critical juncture. Funds need to be raised by the non-profit Seattle Chinese Garden Society before major construction begins, probably in 2001.

Out of discussions that began as early as 1984 between Seattle and Chongqing, China, the Seattle Chinese Garden project emerged as an exciting, challenge-filled opportunity to bring a cultural treasure to the Pacific Northwest.

Chinese landscaping
Examples of Chinese landscape in the classical tradition include North Hot Springs Park in Chongqing.
The two cities entered into an agreement to study the feasibility of building an authentic classical Chinese garden in Seattle. A garden design team from Chongqing traveled to Seattle to help with the search for a suitable site.

They focussed on finding a large site with borrowed views, little impact from noise and air pollution and easy access from the center of the city.

Knowing the tremendous educational benefits they might gain in the future by hosting the garden, South Seattle Community College proposed using a 6-acre portion of the hilltop arboretum at the north end of their West Seattle campus. The Chongqing design team returned to Seattle to witness the site's spectacular views of downtown Seattle, Elliott Bay and the Cascades and then entered into a series of intense discussions on the character, design and authenticity of the garden. This helped establish a fine working relationship that continues today.

South Seattle Community College plans to broaden its curriculum as a result of the proposed garden. The faculty is developing a new Asian studies program that will use the garden to integrate Chinese art, literature, and history. The established landscape horticulture program will redesign a portion of the existing arboretum to complement the Chinese garden.

Chongqing architects have produced an exciting design for the Seattle Chinese Garden, inspired by the natural landscape and gardens of Sichuan Province, Washington's sister state. The garden will become the largest classical Chinese garden outside of mainland China and the first one in the Sichuan style. Its architectural components will be fabricated in China and shipped here for assembly in a unique collaborative effort between Chinese craftsmen and Northwest contractors.

Song Mei Pavilion prototype
Song Mei Pavilion prototype, Chongqing
The first phase of construction will produce the Gathering Together (Huicui) Hall, an elegant post-and-beam building with a column porch around its perimeter, suitable for receptions, lectures, exhibitions, corporate meetings, weddings and other public functions. This hall will open onto the Pines And Wind (Song Feng) Courtyard, an elegant terrace with carefully selected and minutely arranged stonework, and overlook the Lotus Pond, filled with dazzling lotus flowers which in China signify enlightenment and spiritual rebirth.

From the Lotus Pond, water will flow through the entire garden, pooling in grottos, cascading over waterfalls and streaming through densely-laid rockery which captures the rugged natural character of Sichuan's world-famous Yangtze River gorges. The water will eventually flow into Mirror Lake, nearly an acre in size and the spiritual center of the contemplative Chinese garden.

With two islands in its midst, the lake will be surrounded by rustic walkways and a variety of pavilions.

The Seattle Chinese Garden Society has presented this unique art form to the public through video and slide presentations, publications and displays of two remarkable scale models one built at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing, the other built in Seattle by Zhang Cheng Lin. For many, this was the first exposure to Chinese gardens. Arrival of the Song Mei Pavilion provides an even greater opportunity to show the public what a Chinese garden is and how it differs from other gardens, especially the Japanese gardens that most westerners know from first-hand experience.

Pavilion on Mount Emei
Pavilion on Mount Emei, Sichuan Province.
Last year the Seattle Chinese Garden Society entered into a $6.3 million capital campaign to build the first phase of the project. Already, $1.5 million has been raised or pledged. King County has given the largest gift, $500,000.

A request for $1 million is currently before the Washington State Legislature. Numerous corporations engaged in Asian trade are expected to support the garden, as are foundations that support educational and cultural endeavors.

The Seattle Chinese Garden will provide economic benefits through increased trade with China, where trust resulting from past experience and familiarity with Chinese culture is the most important element of a business relationship.

The garden will serve as a unique venue for visiting Asian business delegations and will enhance Washingtons significance in the Pacific Rim.

A bridge in Eling Park
A bridge in Eling Park, Chongqing, one of China's classical gardens.
The delivery of the Song Mei Pavilion was the beginning of what will prove to be a unique educational and cultural resource for K-12 and college students. The future garden's facilities will be ideal for community meetings, celebrations and cultural events such as concerts, dance, theatre and visual arts, as well as the practice of the meditative and martial arts and exploration of plant species native to China.

Most importantly, the Seattle Chinese Garden is a symbol of our region's commitment to build long-term relationships with the people of China.

For information about the capital campaign or to schedule a speaker or a tour of the Song Mei Pavilion construction site, please call 206-282-8040.


James Dawson is owner of Dawson Associates, a Seattle-based architecture firm, and a founding board member of the Seattle Chinese Garden Society.

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