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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Book Review: Pocket Gardens

Pocket Gardens: Contemporary Japanese Miniature Designs (2007) by Michael Freeman
Hardcover, 224 pages

The term "pocket garden" brings to mind pocket park, those roughly lot-size public spaces scattered about Manhattan that are small in stature yet have a wider impact that makes them successful urban design elements. Perhaps the most well-known is Paley Park in Midtown Manhattan. The tiny space is defined by ivy-covered walls on the sides, a canopy of trees overhead, and at its rear a waterfall drowning out the noises of the city. Although small it successfully creates an oasis from the city -- perfect for workers on their lunch hour, as they try to relax for that all-too-brief hour. While this book does not reference pocket parks, the pocket gardens present here work along similar lines: providing residents small oases within their houses.

The compact book is written and photographed by Michael Freeman, who also authored Meditative Spaces and Space: Japanese Design Solutions for Compact Living and who is devoting himself to spaces small yet powerful, limited in size yet expansive in effect. Freeman's intended audience for this book appears to be homeowners outside Japan who want to improve their outdoor space in a way that makes it not only a retreat, but also a part of the house. These are not backyard gardens, these are spaces that the houses cradle, and the chapters (center, edge, corner, image) exhibit the importance of such a relationship. As an architect, the absence of plans or other descriptive drawings is unfortunate, though this probably won't reduce the impact for homeowners, garden design enthusiasts, and the like. Freeman's photographs give the reader plenty of inspiration, while the lack of people in them leaves the architect yearning for something else: the interactive aspects of the spaces, as the gardens are necessarily more than visual imagery, even though that is a large part of their existence. It's a great little book that presents not only beautiful spaces but also iterations on balancing contemporary life with tradition -- Japan's tsubo-niwa -- that could be applied in other places.

1 comment:

  1. Is it just me...or does the term "pocket garden" make anyone else giggle. "Hey, do you want to come over and I'll show you my pocket garden? I spent all night pruning it." Its probably just me, but either way it just made my day.


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