Dwelling / Garden / Being, Suzhou

“Poetically man dwells on this earth”, the phrase by Hölderlin inspired Heidegger to write an essay entitled “Building Dwelling Thinking”, in which he reveals how the activity of building and cultivating the earth belongs to dwelling, and the meaning of dwelling goes far beyond a place to stay. By “dwelling” man signifies his own “Being”. This understanding coincides with the perception of “Being” for the intellectuals who envisioned and built their own gardens in the ancient city of Suzhou, centuries ago. The making of gardens represents their quest for the essence of dwelling. “Dwelling” was understood as the basic character of human existence.

Unfortunately, this understanding has long been lost. That man should build out of dwelling, and think for the sake of dwelling has been forgotten. Dwelling is threatened and harassed by the redundancy of housing as real-estate development and the fragmentation of old cities in China. Generations of people have been evicted from their access to earth, from their communities, their “dwelling”.

The mission of this studio, therefore, is not only to gain architectural inspirations through the study of the scholar’s Gardens in Suzhou, moreover, it will confront contemporary challenges of urban revitalization, community rebuilding, as well as the task of searching anew for the essence of dwelling in architecture and landscape.

The studio will focus on a series of real sites in the historical center of Suzhou, including the “Chàng Yuán Garden” and its adjacent courtyards, provided by the municipality of Suzhou. The aim is to transform the half evacuated courtyards into dwelling spaces and public spaces, to explore possibilities of creating prototypes of contemporary Suzhou Gardens not only for private use, but also as communal spaces that encourage social interactions.

Departing from research on selected Suzhou Gardens and analyzing problems and potentials of the given sites, students will make conceptual designs in the first 2-3 weeks, they will finalize their site selections and program proposals (ie, a community art centre, a tea house, or a garden hostel, etc.) during a planned sponsored field trip to Suzhou in the end of September.

Following the studio trip, students will revise and further develop their concepts and designs. Projects will be reviewed in small-scale conceptual models and later in large-scale material studies or detail mockups.


This course has an irregular meeting schedule. 

Zhang Ke will be in residence on August 30 and 31, September 6 and 7, October 4, 5, 18, and 19, November 1, 2 15, 16, 29, and 30, and December 10, 11, or 12 for Final Reviews.   

The instructor will also be available via Skype to account for “off-week” missed time.