The Scholar’s Garden and Spatial Governance

Jiyoon Gu:

Guji-01International Science Business Belt made up of  5 towns including Sejong

The Multifunctional Administrative City of Sejong in South Korea has a ‘political’ and ‘economic’ reality. The political is an abstract idea of government, whereas the economic is a market-driven and physical reality. This ‘economic reality’ is responsible for the development of Sejong. As in Putrajaya in Malaysia or the proposed New Capital Cairo in Egypt, a tabula rasa site is strategically transformed into an economic hub through the creation of an administrative city. Sejong is paradigmatic for the twenty-first century’s administrative city that is no longer a spatial expression of a nation and its political will, but an economic model to attract capital investment and foster a knowledge economy. The city has become ‘post-political’, with its development left to the real estate market. And in today’s Sejong, this form of development has turned the city into a generic East Asian suburbia. Urban governance, previously involving different layers of government at the national, regional and local level has become deprived of its political dimension.

Guji-02Sejong: Landscape in 2005 and urban form in 2015 
Guji-03Highrise apartment blocks in Sejong, 2015

Seeking an alternative, this project examines the Confucian city and the scholar-bureaucrat: exemplary models of moral leadership that show how political governance can shape the urban and develop civic infrastructures. In particular, the study focuses on how a political idea of the administrative city in Sejong can be still proposed that re-engages with questions of moral leadership and a new political class. 

The project, based on an analysis of the scholar’s garden and its spatial framing of ethical norms and actions that underlie collective living and learning, proposes a similar spatial construction for intimate spaces in an alternative Sejong. The project imagines the moral institution of the scholar’s garden in the contemporary context, in order to construct a contemporary model of spatial governance for Sejong through specific architectural types and urban forms. If we understand the administrative city as a political project, can we also rethink the physical form of ‘administration’ and can statecraft have a spatial, urban dimension?

Guji-04Lucio Costa’s urbs is organised along two intersecting axes: the Residential and Monumental Axis

A historical example for this is the capital city project of Brasilia by Lucio Costa from 1957. He used a Monumental Axis and landscape to spatially express administration. The landscape defines the physical dimensions of each sector as a collective space and the two intersecting monumental and residential axes frame interactions between civic and social spaces. But to understand the city and its Pilot Plan, one has to examine the residential scale and the ‘superquadra’, the housing solution distributed along the residential axis, consisting of a continuous sequence of large urban blocks and surrounded by bands of landscape. The superquadra is not merely a typological expression of residential units or architecture, but also of a morphology that defines a public ground for citizens. The interrelationship between building and open space (landscape) becomes a manifestation of a political will and new forms of social and urban relationships.

Guji-05Putrajaya (Source: Sara Moser, Putrajaya: Malaysia’s New Federal Administrative Capital (2010)

If Brasilia symbolised political action, thirty years later, Putrajaya, the new administrative city of Malaysia, became a symbol of capital speculation. Putrajaya was part of the ambition by former Prime Minister Mahathir to propel Malaysia onto the world stage and attract foreign capital investment. As Sarah Moser points out in Putrajaya: Malaysia’s New Federal Administrative Capital (2010), the new city could not be integrated philosophically or physically into existing urban forms and required a tabula rasa site to create a model city subservient to a knowledge economy and capital investment, with an architecture that is designed more for tourism than democracy.

Guji-06Advertisement of real-estate agencies in Sejong

And another thirty years later in Sejong, the administrative city is still more about economic ‘production’ than political ‘action’. To challenge this, the project asks how the contemporary administrative city can return to questions of nation-building and the spatial language of administration by considering the relationship between government and citizens through ideas of Confucian statecraft, a history closely linked to the political class of the scholar-bureaucrat.

Guji-07Walled city of Chang’an (stone map by Lv Dafang, Song Dynasty); each walled area (fang) defining an administrative districts of ca 50ha

According to Confucianism, developing family relationships also leads to the development of a nation. Proper familial conduct was seen as elemental for good government and achieved through self-cultivation and moral education. Integrating the regulation of the family and the government of the state, the Confucian city had an administrative plan shaped by social roles and questions of coexistence. Understanding urban neighbourhoods as elements of self-governance, we can see, for example, how the zoning of Chang’an (in China) during the T’ang period creates a city designed according to a cosmological-administrative plan. There is no consistent type of civic building, which is typical for ancient European cities, but a dominant type, the quadrangle house defined by walls, accommodates all functions of the city, from family dwelling to clinics, temples, schools and the imperial palace. The wall gives definition to the various scales of the city. Yet as the plan of Chang’an demonstrates, there is no separation between family unit (space of housing) and state (space of monuments). Instead, following a Confucian idea of yin and yang, indicating an inexplicable, flowing movement between two elements, we can see a city that, as depicted in traditional Chinese landscape scroll paintings, is made up of transitional moments that simultaneously take place in several locations and ground conditions.

This idea of the transitional ground was later developed at different scales by Korean scholar-bureaucrats. They created a public ground, not in the western sense as a space of negotiation between equals, but as a realm of ethical teaching and learning, in which moral education takes place. The scholar’s garden, initially a closed cosmos built by scholar-bureaucrats for private study with a garden for personal retreat, gradually transformed into a social space for moral teaching and welfare for the local society. The transformation of the scholar’s garden from a pavilion to an academy, also changed the meaning of the ground.

Guji-08Byeongsan Seowon (1614)
Guji-09Plans of Soswaewon Garden from 1519, of Okho-Jeong Garden from 1815 and Byeongsan Seowon from 1614 in South Korea

Among various gardens built by scholar-bureaucrats, the interrelation of garden, domesticity and education is particularly evident in the Confucian academies, the Seowon of the Chosŏn era (1506-1863). At the beginning of the Chosŏn dynasty, when a Neo-Confucian doctrine was adopted as the basis for statecraft, a unique societal model that reflecting on the Korean socio-political milieu emerged. The Korean scholar-bureaucrats rejected a centralised government and insisted on autonomy and self-governance through mutual aid and surveillance. They understood a common ground as the best foundation of governance, whereby moral leadership and learning were the means to govern society. Thus, the scholar’s garden became central to indoctrination and integration of local society, and the scholar’s garden provided for 500 years an important civic infrastructure within a village and  imbued ideas of collective ‘caring’ through a voluntary community contract (Hyang’yak). This semi-autonomous, local governance model drawn up by scholars in consultation with village elders, covered everything from ethical behaviour and conduct to cooperation and mutual aid. The scholar’s garden was thereby the meeting place between scholars and villagers, but later also served various functions  as an arena, police station, gathering place for local officials, library and archive of former sages, and hotel where travelling officials could stay.

Guji-10Sosu Seowon (1542): When the county schools gradually declined as they could no longer perform their educational role, the scholar-bureaucrats instead started to run private schools in their own residence.
Guji-11Byeongsan Seowon (1614): Typical plan of scholar’s garden as academy, mid 17th century As the academies scholastic function was paramount in this period, a logical outcome of the trend was that the representative architectural seowon type established in this period placed the lecture hall at its centre.
Guji-12Pilam Seowon (1672): The typical academy can be divided into five important areas, among which the shrine area where rites performed, the study area where the student study, the pavillion-gate area where everyone comes for repose; the administrative area which oversees the facilities; and finally the area surrounding the academy.

Guji-13In the late 17th century, the layout of the garden showed that a large communal and central space open to the public was created. From the front gate to the holy shrine, the scholar’s garden has multiple thresholds, through which one space leads into another, from an enclosed to an open space. This juxtaposition is simultaneously one of elements that are warm and cold or light and dark or intricate and rough. In this manner, without specific functions, a spatial idea correlates to a socio-political idea – the bipolarity of yin and yang – and the ground becomes a device to frame a flowing experience from one spatial moment to another. Thereby the teaching and learning activities within the scholar’s garden are not exclusive to scholars, but creates a shared, common ground with the village.

Guji-141. Pavillion Type, Sosoewon Garden (1519); 2. Cottage Type, Dasan-Chodang (1802); 3. Cloister Type, Okho-Jeong (1815); Cloister Type, Sokpa-Jeong (1810); 5. Academy Type, Namgan (1683); 6. Academy Type, Sosu Seowon (1542); 7. Academy Type, Byeongsan Seowon (1614); 8. Academy Type, Piram Seowon (1672)

Developing these ideas, the dissertation argues that spatial values embodying rules of collective living and learning can construct a different social intimacy within domestic and urban scales. This opens up the possibility for a moral institution existing beyond the scholar’s garden in the contemporary context. Rethinking the scholar’s garden across different urban scales and through its structures of wall, column, elevated platform and rooms, provides a spatial language for the proposal, forming diverse thresholds defined by political activities and a new way of living and learning. Acknowledging the cultural idea of landscape as a threshold between different political and social spaces, an idea also explicit in the scholar’s garden, the ‘ground’ proposed by this project becomes symptomatic, a ground in which tropes of nature and culture continuously frame political action.

Guji-16Typical collective urban strip
Guji-15Detail of collective urban strip

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