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Sir William Chambers, Chinese Pagoda, 1762, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London. Photo: C. Lansley/Flickr.

IN 1749, at the height of the European mania for chinoiserie, an employee of the Swedish East India Company named William Chambers traveled to England after two voyages to the port of Guangzhou, China. His accounts of his experiences there were hungrily lapped up by the English nobility, and Chambers, building on this notoriety, soon fashioned himself into the leading architect and landscape designer of his day, notably designing the Chinese Pagoda at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, completed in 1762, and becoming master surveyor and architect to King George III. A pet project of the well-heeled naturalist and explorer Sir Joseph Banks, Kew Gardens presented a veritable encyclopedia of the vast world that the awesome military and commercial power of the British East India Company had put within reach, including plants from exotic climes and examples of the architectural styles

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