Finding limitless space in the gardens of Kyoto

Regardless of their scale, Kyoto’s gardens share a quality of space that serves as a reminder that one doesn’t need to be in a place like Yosemite to experience the feeling of inhabiting boundless landscape. Limitlessness is, as the writer Bruce Chatwin observed in his essay ‘Wabi’, a consequence not of scale, but of the eye’s ability to travel freely — ‘I once went to see a former pupil of Mies van der Rohe, who had put into effect the master’s dictum, “Less is more”. He lived in a spare one-room apartment in mid-town Manhattan. He was a very rich man. All his possessions he kept in cupboards — and amongst them was a cubist Picasso. I recall him saying that if you had to live in a crass, claustrophobic 20th century city; if, outside your door, you were bombarded by the demands of consumerism — “BUY ME! OBEY ME!” — the greatest of all luxuries was to be able to walk, unimpeded by furniture or pictures, around your own bare walls. For, no matter how small the room, providing your eye could travel freely around it, the space it contained was limitless. He was repeating, in effect, the premise underlying medieval monasticism that the monk, who sat in his cell, was free to travel everywhere’.


John Pawson