The Mathematics of Spatial Transparency and Mystery: Using Syntactical Data to visualise and analyse the properties of the Yuyuan Garden

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Yu, Rongrong
Gu, Ning
Ostwald, Michael J.
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Background: One school of thought argues that the Traditional Chinese Private Garden's (TCPG) primary spatial property is that it features both freestanding buildings in space, and spaces freely positions in the landscape, creating a great sense of phenomenal transparency. In contrast, a more traditional interpretation of the TCPG stresses that its primary purpose is to evoke mystery, or provide places of isolation or for retreat. Method: This paper examines these two complex, multi-variable propositions using Space Syntax theory, a method which enables a mathematical analysis of the structural and visual configuration of the spaces in a plan to be undertaken. The methods used for the analysis are variations of the convex space and isovist mapping techniques, and the data is analysed mathematically and then visually using heat-maps. The sixteenth century Yuyuan Garden, one of the most famous TCPGs, is used as a test case for the research. Results: The results of this study suggest that those features of the TCPG which are associated with mystery are more correlated with its trafficable structure than its visual accessibility. Conversely, the transparency of the TCPG is potentially more related to the directional features of the space than to transparency in isolation. Conclusion: This paper presents a computational visualisation and analysis method based on the use of Space Syntax techniques for examining vision and movement potential in a complex garden environment. As demonstrated in the example of the Yuyuan garden, the method is effective for analysing and visualising spatial properties beyond the surface level of forms and shapes. Through the application of this method we have been able to provide a new insight into two of the most famous, but poorly understood perceptual properties of TCPGs: transparency and mystery.

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Vizualisation in Engineering

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© 2016 Yu et al. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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