Architect Kengo Kuma’s Authentic Village

, Architect

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution establishes domestic tranquility. That peace is harder to find in today’s hectic, hyper-partisan society—except in Oregon.

Famed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, designer of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics’ National Stadium, offers some relief as creator of the Portland Japanese Garden’s new 3.4-acre Cultural Village, set to open this April. Already celebrated as perhaps the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan, the Oregon tourist destination’s $33.5 million expansion represents Kuma’s first public commission in the United States

The halcyon Village will immerse 350,000 visitors per year in traditional Japanese arts and culture via genuine minimalist aesthetics, open-air wood pavilions, an 18-foot-high Medieval wall, and tranquil landscapes modeled after spiritual-inspired enclaves of Japan.

“Given its proximity to nature, Portland is unlike any place in the world,” says Kuma. “This new Cultural Village serves as a connector of the stunning Oregon landscape, Japanese arts, and a subtle gradation to architecture. Working with the Garden has influenced my approach to future projects, especially integrating green and wood. For example, the National Stadium in Tokyo will be rich in vegetation, evoking a feeling of forest in the city.”

Kuma and collaborator Sadafumi Uchiyama, Portland Japanese Garden’s curator and a third generation gardener, optimized existing land (adding more than 11,000 square feet) to create the new campus whose Leeds-certified structures boast Japanese craftsmanship and locally-sourced materials. The grounds include a welcoming water garden entrance, elegant chabana garden, garden house, tea café, cultural center, library and gift shop.

which fuse harmoniously with the natural landscape. The new cascading pond water garden at the Washington Park entrance represents a soothing transition from city to tranquility. Thatched living-roof structures absorb rainwater and prevent water run-off, just like those in traditional Japanese gardens. The Village’s layout emulates Japan’s “mozenmachi”—the imposing gate-front towns surrounding sacred shrines and temples.

Castle Wall is a 3,500-square-foot,185-foot-long west-end barrier by Suminori Awata, a 15th-generation Japanese master stone mason—hand constructed from 800 tons of Baker Blue granite from Baker City, Oregon. The Umami Tea Café by Ajinomoto (which cantilevers over a scenic hillside) is an intimate, floating tea café in the Japanese tradition with teas from Jugetsudo, whose flagship cafés in Tokyo and Paris were also designed by Kuma. The café is constructed of Port Orford cedar and Tyvek which mirrors rice paper.

Gardens are still the Village’s beating heart. Tateuchi Courtyard is a gathering space for seasonal enrichment activities, performances and demonstrations. The courtyard also showcases “Tsubo-niwa” (tiny urban garden) and a bonsai terrace.

The Bill de Weese chabana garden is private space that will grow flowers for tea ceremony—the first of its kind in North America. Gallery space for art exhibitions will celebrate Japanese traditions such as Kabuki theater, costumes, tea culture, hand-carved masks and more.

Finally, the Cultural Village will house the International Institute for Japanese Garden Arts & Culture, which, through apprentice and academic study, will showcase Japanese gardening and garden arts such as tea ceremony and calligraphy. The Institute will open to the public in 2018.

In this increasingly connected, distracted world, we find many of our guests seek out the peace and respite they find within the Garden,” says Steve Bloom, chief executive officer for the Portland Japanese Garden, which now covers 9.1 acres. “With this new Cultural Village, we will extend the Garden’s legacy and purpose, providing a heightened sense of tranquility, a more robust educational experience and preservation of significant cultural traditions and art forms.”

Kuma also restored tranquility to his native Japan following an Olympic Stadium controversy. After Zaha Hadid’s stadium design was accepted, the project ran over budget and was publicly rejected by prominent Japanese architects. Kuma’s stadium submission ultimately prevailed, in part, due to its traditional Japanese design, use of natural materials, and garden park elements that blend with the surrounding landscape. Sound familiar?