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Golden Mountain Upper Cloister

Just Proportions Achieving Harmony

Atelier Deshaus

Golden Mountain Upper Cloister
By Yehuda Safran -

As we most often assume we know what a thing looks like, only rarely are we confronted with our error of judgment should this not be the case. We assume we know what a zen meditation space looks like. But does anybody really know the answer? What does zen meditation mean? What is a zen garden made of? What should it look like?

So many questions engulf us as soon as we begin to think of a zen meditation hall. Yet, it is even rarer that such a project is even attempted. As travelers, we have seen some of the great zen gardens such as the one at the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto. As listeners, we recall that John Cage named one of his compositions Ryoanji. There are a number of other zen gardens in Kyoto. However, their origin is Chinese.

As is so often the case, none of the named characteristics will do when the reality of the garden negates the attempt to classify or arrange a group of characteristics according to their meanings. Here, not far from the Great Wall of China, some hours northeast of Beijing, you find yourself in the Upper Cloister of Golden Mountain, a zen meditation center, even if your prior familiarity with zen gardens is indeed very limited. Even the driest elements bring the associations of liquid, water and sand. There is nothing in the built environment that will not carry some meaning somewhere. Indeed, it is this burden of over interpretation that the architect was called to overcome.

Liu Yichun and his office Atelier Deshaus could not but take for granted some of the elements and vocabulary of zen temples and gardens, or at least what they look like. It would be too much to ask, nor would it be easy to avoid everything that we take for granted when approaching a zen garden. The fact remains, however, that the true Zen is, as always, in the measure of one thing against the measure of another: gravel or solid stone, the relative measures are seen against all other stones, large and small.

It is an irony of...

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