A favorite among locals and tourists, expanded Portland Japanese Garden debuts | Crain's Portland

A favorite among locals and tourists, expanded Portland Japanese Garden debuts

The Ellie M. Hill Bonsai Terrace is part of the Portland Japanese Garden's new $33.5 million expansion. | Photo by Bruce Forster

The Portland Japanese Garden, celebrated for more than 50 years as one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside that island nation, has opened its Cultural Village expansion to the public.

Designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma – who also is spearheading the National Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – the Garden’s new Cultural Village aims to provide additional space to accommodate its rapid visitor growth. It also seeks to enhance its ability to immerse visitors in traditional Japanese arts and culture.

“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. “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’s appreciation for Japanese design principles – and how they remain relevant in today’s modern world – made him an ideal choice to design the Garden. Together with the Portland Japanese Garden’s curator, third-generation master garden craftsman Sadafumi Uchiyama, Kuma designed the new Cultural Village. It marks his first public commission in the U.S.

“Given its proximity to nature, Portland is unlike any place in the world," Kuma said. "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.”

A major attraction

Now a top tourist destination in Oregon, the Portland Japanese Garden drew just 30,000 visitors annually when it opened in 1967. Fifty years later, it now welcomes more than 350,000 guests per year, and that figure continues to grow. 

With this expansion, Kuma and Uchiyama reused and optimized existing land – adding 3.4 acres of usable space to the 9.1-acre property – to create an immersive, fluid journey from start to finish. To better welcome visitors, the entrance to the Garden at Washington Park features a water garden with cascading ponds, transitioning from city bustle to tranquility. The Village emulates Japan’s monzenmachi, the gate-front towns that surround sacred shrines and temples.

Using a combination of locally sourced materials and Japanese craftsmanship, the Village’s design is informed by a cross-cultural exchange of expertise. The Tateuchi Courtyard is a gathering space for seasonal activities, performances and demonstrations to educate and enrich the visitor experience. Each new LEED-certified structure exists harmoniously with nature.:

● The Jordan Schnitzer Japanese Arts Learning Center is home to new gallery spaces, a multipurpose classroom, the Garden gift store and the Vollum Library, a comprehensive resource on Japanese gardening and related arts.

● A new Garden House, where an expanded offering of horticulture workshops will take place.

● At the heart of the village, visitors will find an authentic, intimate Umami Café, features teas and products from Jugetsudo, whose flagship tea cafés in Tokyo and Paris were also designed by Kuma.

“The café sits perched up on a hill like a ‘tea temple’ with glass walls that slide open to the gorgeous view,” says Dana Hush, who works at Umami. “Everyone has been super-excited about the expansion as a whole, but the garden was really missing a chance for our guests to really make a cultural connection to tea.

“Although the garden had a traditional tea hut used for Japanese tea ceremonies, there is finally space for guests to actually drink tea and see it served in the traditional Japanese way,” Hush said.

Kuma designed living roofs atop the structures, which absorbs rainwater and prevents water run-off. From a design perspective, the living roofs are likened to the thatched roofs of fishing huts from centuries ago in Japan.

One of the expansion’s standout structures is the authentic, medieval Castle Wall found at the west end of the Portland Japanese Garden's new Cultural Village. The building process was led by Suminori Awata, a 15th-generation Japanese master stonemason. The wall measures 185 feet long and 18.5 feet high and was built using traditional hand tools and techniques. In total, the wall has 800 tons of Baker Blue granite from a quarry outside Baker City, Ore.

Building on a treasure

While the existing Garden has stayed intact and unchanged, the Cultural Village expansion introduces three new gardens designed to demonstrate a wider array of Japanese garden styles and techniques.

With demonstrations taking place weekly, guests will be able to partake firsthand in Japanese culture upon their visit to the Garden. The new gallery space will allow for year-round exhibitions and expanded cultural programming. In celebration of the Cultural Village’s opening, the Portland Japanese Garden will host three major "Art in the Garden" exhibitions this year, each featuring related lectures, demonstrations and activities.

The project also includes the development of the International Institute for Japanese Garden Arts & Culture, which will merge traditional apprentice-based learning with current, academic-based study. The curriculum will be focused on learning techniques of Japanese gardening while including lessons in Japanese culture via traditional garden arts, such as tea ceremony and calligraphy. The Institute will open in 2018.

April 20, 2017 - 12:13pm