The historic Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. has broken ground on the final phase of construction for its massive Chinese Garden. Also known as Liu Fang Yuan, or Garden of Flowing Fragrance, the $23-million project will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking on August 28, with construction expected to wrap-up in 18 months.
When complete in February 2020, the garden’s footprint will have grown from 3.5 acres to 12 acres, making it one of the largest classical-style Chinese gardens in the world.
Inspired by the centuries-old Chinese tradition of private scholars’ gardens, Liu Fang Yuan originally opened in 2008 with eight tile-roofed pavilions situated around a one-acre lake. In 2014, the 100-year-old Huntington Library added new pavilions and a rock grotto.
A key element of this final phase is an exhibition complex at the north end of the garden. Comprising a traditional scholar’s studio and an art gallery for changing displays, it will dramatically expand the possibilities for programming related to the garden. Other project highlights include a new, larger café with outdoor seating, and a stream-side corridor and pavilion with scenic views.
At the southern end of the lake, a hillside pavilion will be situated on the highest point in the garden, with a view of the Mt. Wilson Observatory in the distance. To be called the Stargazing Tower, this pavilion will provide stunning views of the water, pavilions, treetops, mountains, and skies. The name pays homage to nearby Mt. Wilson Observatory—visible from the tower—and to the work of astronomer Edwin Hubble, a neighbor of library founder Henry Huntington. Hubble’s papers are part of the Library’s holdings in the history of science department.
To the west of the Stargazing Tower, an event space for larger gatherings will overlook the lake. The library says that pending additional fundraising, a courtyard for the display of penjing (miniature landscapes similar to Japanese bonsai) will be built, along with several acres of new garden spaces linked by winding pathways. This will be called Verdant Microcosm.
As with the earlier stages of the garden’s construction, the project is an international partnership between Chinese and American architects, contractors, and craftsmen that will work together to ensure that the garden remains authentic to Chinese traditions of architecture and landscape design, while meeting state and federal regulations for seismic safety and accessibility.
Los Angeles architect Jim Fry developed the detailed construction plans for the expansion, based on the conceptual designs of the Suzhou Institute of Landscape Architecture Design in China. Irvine, CA-based Snyder Langston is leading construction; BrightView of Calabasas, CA, is the landscape contractor.
To keep things as authentic as possible, Chinese artisans from the Suzhou Garden Development Co., Ltd., will work on site for several months to complete important details by hand. These craftsmen specialize is skills such as wood carving, roof tiling, and stone masonry.
Peter Tuma, project executive for Snyder Langston, says part of his company’s contract involves cultural exchange duties. He told me that one of the most interesting challenges of the job is getting all the Chinese artisans over from China and organizing their visas, housing and transportation.
The total cost of the final phase is approximately $23 million, of which more than $19 million has been raised, say officials. This brings the combined total cost of the garden to about $53 million, all of which has been raised from individual, corporate, and foundation gifts.