Ji Jin Xiang a Chinese stone mason works to position a paving block under the watchful eyes of Feng Dacheng Chief Architect and Courtyard Project Director Yangming Chu. Knowing the Spring Court is now being completed by a group of Chinese artisans brought here specifically for their skills to complete the pavilon as part of the Seattle Chinese Garden.
SLIDESHOW: Seattle Chinese Garden taking shape under skilled hands
Artisan welcome party set for Aug. 22nd
1000 miles up the Yangtze River in the Schezuan Province of China a style of architecture exists that is intrinsically chinese but also unique. That is the style being employed by a group of Chinese artisans now building the Knowing the Spring Courtyard, at the Seattle Chinese Garden located just north of South Seattle Community College.
When the project began 20 years ago on the 4 1/2 acre site the sister cities of Seattle and Chongqing chose to cooperate on the construction of a garden that would be a place to share Chinese culture, architecture, the arts and horticulture. The Song Mei Pavilion, a small structure, was built and initial plans were drawn up, models were made. But funding for the elaborate garden is a perennial problem.
The garden is a public-private partnership with funding from the City of Seattle, King County and Washington State. Funds also come from corporate donors, foundations and individuals. In-kind support comes from the City of Chongqing, which is home to 30 million people.
The money raised so far, more than $7.5 million has gone to site selection (the land is owned by the City of Seattle) and analysis, garden design, master plan development and permitting, construction of a demonstration garden and pavilion, detailed design work, site grading, and construction of the basic elements of the Knowing The Spring Courtyard. The total cost of the courtyard construction is $4.5 million and 80% of that has been raised. Fundraising continues.
21 artisans arrived last week to begin the finish work on the courtyard which should take approximately four months. The techniques they use and the design skill that guides them is part of a shrinking class of people in China. The Chief Architect, Feng Dacheng, has been involved with the project from the beginning. He's been to the site only twice before. " When he retires," Board member and Architect Jim Dawson said," There aren't too many people left in China that know how to do this. It's becoming a lost art. China is rebuilding itself and it's stunning. Everything is modern, everthing is skyscrapers. The people who have this skill are being reduced in number." Their labor is being donated by the City of Chongqing.
The project is being built according to code, it has to pass through the Seattle Building Department, so some elements are not entirely traditional but for the most part it's extremely authentic to the style found in Chongqing. The traditional style served the citizens of Chongqing well. Despite the push in China for modernization the older buildings survived with less damage in the 2008 Schezuan earthquake than their modern counterparts. The time frame of the garden construction has led to many changes in the plan. The Song Mei pavilon, built as the very first structure in 1999-2000 will in fact be dismantled and rebuilt with upgraded materials elsewhere on the site according to Dawson. "The really discerning eye can tell where this building is from," said Dawson.
Courtyard Project Director Yangming Chu said he's enjoying being here, working on the project, "It's exciting because architecture is also aesthetically pleasing. It's a great project." He would love to see it through to completion but that longer term goal is "all dependent on the funding."
Public tours are being offered of the site Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 10 am, and Wednesday at 1:30 pm. The tour takes 30 minutes and there is a $5 suggested donation.
The artisans are being welcomed with a party on Aug. 22 from 1pm to 4 pm at an event featuring a lion dance, martial arts, kite flying and arts demonstrations. Admission is FREE.
For more information and directions to the site visit www.seattlechinesegarden.org
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