Since ancient times, human beings have always been reforming the Great Nature in the hopes of creating an even better living environment for themselves. However, over-development has prompted us to reflect that what we truly need is not reform but co-existence. In Japan, halfway up Mount Nasu in Tochigi prefecture, there is a marvelous plot of forest where trees and ponds intertwine. Despite traces of artificiality, everything co-existing inside completely originates from the nature. Junya Ishigami, an architect known for breaking the mould, takes on the theme “Water Garden” to pursue co-existence by reversely designing a piece of land within nature not for the purpose of existence, but rather solely for how to preserve and nurture the original landscape.
Unfortunately, it was human beings’ damage to the Great Nature that has given rise to this “Water Garden” project. This once thick and heavy primeval forest was turned into paddy fields before gradually becoming abandoned wasteland. At the same time, a new hotel villa was due to begin construction soon while several hundred trees were facing the fate of being removed and abandoned. Perhaps the desire to preserve the trees or the hope to find a solution for co-existence has prompted Art Biotop Nasu, an art inn owning the piece of land to voice its intention to preserve these trees. In response, the architect put forward the concept of “creating a piece of art non-existent in nature by using resources from nature.” He meticulously replanted the few hundred trees while constructing ponds of varying sizes and laid blankets of moss with reference to the size and type of trees. Every single element of this artificial landscape, without exception, has been drawn from nature, but it has been given such a delicate new life in this world. The Water Garden has several entrances. In order to protect all the plants and animals from harm over the long term, stone steps, both big and small, lead people forward, with small paths sometimes traversing vast ponds while at other times steering away from branches sticking out. Like a maze, it would seem a stamping ground just before your eyes can never be reached easily. At that time, I thought it was perhaps the architect’s well-meaning intention to let visitors explore this beautiful and complex scenery from a variety of angles and positions. Shadows of the trees, reflection of the sky on the crystal clear water surface, the huge stone regarded as a “sofa” as well as companions all together contribute to this unique setting.
More intriguingly, from the moment the garden was constructed, the landscape has continued to grow and undergo changes. Living things from the surrounding area has slowly moved in to become members of the Water Garden. Ponds that appear to be static and quiet are indistinctly connected. Amusingly, water flow in every channel, from high to low places, swiftly or slowly, making faint sounds. Moreover, distinct four seasons define the mountain landscape of high latitude. During the four seasons, plants keep transforming their states, and along with the surrounding environment, they all vye to take center stage within the garden. In mid-summer, fresh green leaves cast dancing shadows under the sunlight while in autumn and winter, bare branches are matched with the blue sky and white snow. In tracing back the history, rather than regarding Water Garden as innovative, it is more apt to say that it echoes Japan’s traditional garden landscape culture. Ancient writings dating as far back as the Heian period already mention that gardens represents a part in which natural landscape is integrated into daily life in order to achieve harmony between human beings and nature, rather than simply making duplicates of existing environment in real life. Therefore, co-existence is more important than making changes, and co-ordination favors long-term developments. Gardens have always been a medium through which a person seeks common ground while putting aside differences. Water Garden, thus, represents a new evolution of ancient gardens in modern art.