From traditional to contemporary: Revelations in Chinese garden and public space design

Bo Yang, Nancy J. Volkman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


China, like many other nations, struggled in the twentieth century with defining an indigenous landscape design tradition. This was particularly true in addressing urban open space design after China implemented the Open Door Policy in the late 1970s, when Chinese garden design traditions became largely neglected. The objective of this study is to determine whether the traditional design approach could still effectively serve as modern design inspiration. Built upon a previous study by Wu (1999), our study is a reflective critique on modern Chinese urban public space design. We compare major types of traditional and modern Chinese urban open spaces. The percentage areas of five landscape variables that Wu proposed (planting, water, rock, architecture and pavement) were quantified using Photoshop and ArcGIS software. Although Wu (1999) compared only scholars gardens (a traditional model) with modern parks (a modern model), we include imperial gardens (another traditional model) and urban plazas (another modern model). In addition, we supplemented Wus plan analysis with perspective view analysis (photographs). Our results suggest more similarities between traditional and modern landscapes than previously suggested. This article concludes by suggesting that traditional models can be relevant to contemporary urban public space design in China.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-220
Number of pages13
JournalUrban Design International
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Chinese
  • landscape visual assessment
  • modern park
  • modern plaza
  • traditional landscapes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Urban Studies


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