A Pictorial Vision Of Space: Looking At Modern Architecture In China Through Landscape Painting

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Graduate group
Chinese gardens and architecture
depth in perception and comprehension
Feng Jizhong
I. M. Pei
spatiality of image
Wang Shu
Asian Studies
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
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This dissertation furthers the long-standing tradition of interactions between pictorial and building arts and explores this relationship within two specific fields – traditional Chinese landscape painting and architectural practices in modern China. The study considers the mutuality of spatial thinking in the two arts and the relevance of such historical pictorial production in contemporary architectural design by focusing on the notion of depth represented in painting and constructed by architecture. The dissertation investigates three architectural practitioners – Ieoh Ming Pei, Feng Jizhong, and Wang Shu – because of their articulated pictorial inspirations in their built works in China. The study is structured thematically into four major chapters. The beginning chapter identifies key concepts developed from the notion of depth in the Chinese landscape painting tradition and proposes three themes – visual depth, experiential depth, and metaphysical depth – in architectural translation. The subsequent three chapters further elaborate the established themes by identifying, examining, and contesting the uses of landscape paintings throughout each architect’s individual design processes, thus showing how pictorial space is constructed, experienced, and comprehended in modern architecture. The study explores this interdisciplinary exchange through a variety of topics, including the spatiality of images, the articulated dynamism in visual experience, the possessions and appropriations of pictorial symbols, and the comprehension of spatial perception. In sum, the study searches for an instructive role of landscape painting in contemporary architecture by demonstrating the theoretical continuum of painting concepts and techniques in architectural design. Furthermore, it proposes a new perspective for looking at, understanding, and imagining space through this pictorial lens. In this pictorial vision, the perception of depth becomes an active agent that guides the creation of space; more importantly, it encourages attentiveness in building experience and generates fresh interpretations of what we see. Hence, the dissertation aims to bring forth an alternative paradigm in the architectural discipline, one that engages with the excitements and challenges of contemporary image culture by reminding us of the inseparable connection to the existing landscape.

David Leatherbarrow
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