Labyrinthine Clarity


Van Eyck, who designed and supervised the construction or renovation of 735 playgrounds in Amsterdam over a period of thirty years from 1947, described his project, the maze-like CC, as “Built Homing” and “Inbetween Realm”. He used “labyrinthine Clarity” concept to construct the conservation between the visitors and the pavilion architecture. So what if we transfer this into landscape? Or bring it into a garden? Like homemaking, gardening can be expressive of human emotion and have capacity to surprise and upset, but also bring people into close proximity with their memory, perception, and body experience. In this project, the garden throughout three distinctive fields, the grassland, the wet meadow and the woodland, engages all senses through vision, tactility, color, height of plant species and form, to draw on children’s playful and joyful experience.

The circular element is incorporated into the ground plan and cohesively integrates three fields together.  Children or other visitors, following the various trails, actually step into the labyrinth before they understood what happened inside. The garden is perplexing and provocative, attracting children to stroll, run, chase with each other, explore each route, and get lost within it. And it also follows a continuous sequence, from the beginning to the end of the volume, which blurs the boundaries in between three fields.

The design of planting form and function exert a significant role in creating spiral and labyrinthine quality. With curiosity to plant characteristics, children are expected to inspect, touch, smell the flowers and herbs. And they are also encouraged to climb, bend, crawl in the peculiar spaces shaped by plants. The species in grassland field are like walls and screens, sometimes directing visitors, sometimes blocking their views, which build the secretive maze-like place. And the glade encompassed by understory trees acts like an illuminated destination, but you still can find more paths extend into the canopy woodland. The memory and experience are intersected here, as both remembered and anticipated, consecutive and simultaneous.


What prompted the project?

We took the Planting Form and Function course last semester that focused on the power of plants to make extraordinary experience and to form socio-ecological performative spaces. And we tried to develop a specific type of social and ecological function that will be given through vegetation configured on an idealized site that crosses three distinctive fields. I decided to bring the “labyrinth Clarity” by Van Eyck into the design scheme and constructed a playful-plant maze.

What drew you to the work of Van Eyck?

Recently I read the book “The place of sculpture in modern architecture” that talks about how sculpture takes effect in the architecture and garden and how it changes visitors’ attention, vision, sensory and experience. In one chapter of the book, it mentions the Van Eyck’s Sonsbeek pavilion that is the outdoor sculpture gallery with a series of parallel walls and staggered openings. Van Eyck explored the theme of “labyrinth clarity” and designed the sculptures as transparent screen to create secretive maze-like quality. So the sculpture not just as the exhibit but as the design language and intervention of space, I’m curious whether the plants can achieve the same goal but as a living and growing thing. What if we use plants to enable the “breathing out and breathing in”, invoking people’s desire for exploration? Besides, knowing Van Eyck designed or supervised the construction of 735 playgrounds in Amsterdam, I set the plant labyrinth to be a playground designed for children.

In line with the work of the famous architect, to what extent was this playground an opportunity to test out your ideas on architecture, relativity and imagination?

Van Eyck once said:” a house is tiny city, a city a huge house.” We must treat our cities as our homes. Like home making, this labyrinth garden can be expressive of human emotion and have capacity to surprise and upset, and bring people into close proximity with their memory. It is not made to showcase flowing landform and sweeping vistas, but are mundane task-scape. This project intends to engage visitor’s imagination and sense through the interaction with the place and vegetation, so that they can remind of the dews on the boxwood leaves, the mud when they crawl through the branches of crape myrtles, the smell from the cotton lavender. All these fragments will become their memories, the part of life. For me, it is attempted to extract something more malleable and familiar out of every-day life, and in so doing to seek a more comfortable landscape by bringing together different fragments of past and present.

How does the project respond or challenge our contemporary conception of public space?

For most people, they usually see few visible effects of plants when they walk around the city. The plants are easy to be overlooked but they have the indispensable power to construct a container for public space. One tree can provide a shade shelter, a canopy corridor or circular row of trees go beyond the shelter or the greens. With form and function, they become the describer of public spaces. They construct a built environment in a natural way. And there are also many public architectures like arboretums that relate to plants. As tour places, the information of plants sometimes is overwhelming. This project can also be brought into the smaller-scale public space that can be located at the pocket garden or the intersection in a community. Reinforcing the pure aesthetic of the planting form and function in such a way, it can be transfused into locals’ interaction of daily activities and their memories.

How does the latter integrate within the urban fabric of the city?

I think it is the “conversation” that how the public space can integrate into urban fabric. The public spaces need to build up a place for conservation or respond to its adjacent environment, not only for the natural one, but also built environment including residences, communities, and mix-uses. People need public spaces in the high-density and fast-paced urban life. Like living in houses, they also live in these spaces. The public space that is embedded between city fabric is also a mediator for hybridizing the mobility and rhythm of the daily lives of the neighborhood, the urban recreation and workplaces.

At a time when most kids seem to be hiding behind a screen indoors, how important is it to draw them back to the outdoors and play?

Currently kids like to stay indoors because they feel the living environment bored. To bring the kids back to outdoors, it is important to evoke their curiosity for new experience and encourage them to explore everything. We should not just design a place or a container for them to play, but also imagine their movement and activities. Peter Zumthor said:” in order to design buildings with a sensuous connection to life, one must think in a way that goes far beyond form and construction.” So does landscape. The labyrinth garden (playground) should be thought beyond an educational recreation, and it should be a great memory for children. Even though they grow up, they still can remember the experience of running, crawling, playing in between the garden.

What is for you the architect's most important tool?

Sketch drawing and physical modelling. They are the most irreplaceable connection between physical world and the inner world of architects and landscape architects. Drawing can record our memories and expand our imaginations while modelling can construct and materialize our design that relates to scale, dimension and sensory.