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Brian Libby

A comment from reader Jeff Joslin sent via email:

I’m so glad to see a discussion of the Garden’s contribution to the City. As one who had the honor of participating in the Garden’s design and construction, it’s a place of profound meaning to me.

I did want to correct one fact, and take issue with one observation.

The depth of the pond in vicinity of certain elements was a result of a desire to maintain traditional rail heights and not add other non-authentic protective elements. However the pond depth overall was born of the desire to remove and remediate as little material as possible from the pond area. As an additional pond footnote, the river rock placed on the bed was a Lan Su specific innovation. The designers’ first desire was to maintain deeper murky water of a particular color. Given the shallower pond, our inability to ensure consistent murkiness, and the inevitability of viewing the bottom; the stone was agreed to as a visually appropriate alternative.

And now for the difference of opinion.

At the time our garden was being designed, there were no gardens in Suzhou with treatments along the street edge such as Lan Su provides. The ancient gardens were private urban enclaves, with stark walls and nondescript entries. Such a treatment would have clearly been in conflict with Portland’s aspirations for a quality pedestrian environment. After touring all other projects by Suzhou in North America, I noted that some had made use of “leek windows” such as those in your Everett Street photo in discrete exterior locations. This notion was – in turn – delicately proposed to our Suzhou masters, and accepted. Each of the windows is a unique, hand crafted (400 person hours) design. Other pedestrian-enhancing innovations included the Everett and 3rd entry plaza, and other landscaped areas at the Garden’s other three corners (which Mr. Kuang and Ms. He immediately embraced for their “borrowed landscape” potential). These elements, along with the decorative tile and granite base, in my estimation (and the Portland Design Commission’s, who ultimately approved the project) resulted in an approach that was highly and fittingly additive to our streetscape, hardly “a big blank stone wall”. The windows provide a diversity of form and pattern and craft unlike any other streetwall, afford glass-free views into the garden, but also allow the Garden scents (and sounds, when there’s music or activity within) to weep out into the surrounding streets. The design masters found all these innovations appropriate for such a garden in modern times and cities, and have since employed them similarly in projects both outside of China and within.

Jeff Joslin

Director of Current Planning
San Francisco, CA

Fred Leeson

Interesting response by Jeff. I always assumed the windows were intended to lure people in by giving them a glimpse of the beauty. Still, I think the garden is further proof of how difficult it is to stimulate nearby development...same result at the Convention Center, which was assumed to prompt user-friendly projects nearby. Still hasn't happened....

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