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Monday 01.17.11

« settlement | Main | New Gallery: Black Box »

Kengo Kuma to design expansion of Portland's Japanese Garden

Kengo Kuma's very preliminary design proposal for Portland's Japanese Garden (area before entering the garden)

After a two year search the Portland Japanese Garden has announced the selection of Kengo Kuma to lead the Garden’s future expansion project. This is just the latest in a series of major game changing architectural commissions starting with Brad Cloepfil's W+K HQ, The Portland Aerial Tram and most recently Charles Rose's new buildings for OCAC. Still, this is something different. Rather than an up and comer Kuma is a major name talent and already considered by many one of the world's very best architects. I particularly like his Chokkura Plaza and Great (Bamboo) Wall House. Perhaps more than any architect alive today he is sensitive to local materials and nature so he is an ideal designer for the project. It is a tribute to the quality of our Japanese garden that Kuma wants to be involved. Quality attracts quality people and this is important for Portland, which until the Aerial Tram hadn't been that ambitious. What's more this is the first public North American project that Mr. Kuma will design.

Lately, the Portland Japanese Garden has been putting on contemporary art exhibitions/events and Kuma's designs will likely increase their capabilities in those activities... an idea I wholly support. Contemporary art shouldn't be seen as something only for art schools and art museums.

Another very preliminary view of Kuma's proposal

According to the press release, "Mr. Kuma’s vision for the Garden, as presented to the Architect Selection Committee, was to build on the contributions of original Garden designer Takuma Tono as well as the past Garden directors, while setting forth a clear path for the Garden’s future. The concepts were a seamless expression of contemporary elements solidly rooted in the fundamentals of traditional Japanese architectural design." From the preliminary proposal images I'd say everything the garden and Kuma are claiming is true, which is good because this is a very sensitive commission.

It also ups the ante for all future architectural commissions in the city. Will Brad Cloepfil's upcoming redesign of the 511 Building for PNCA hold it's own? What about the renovation of the YU Contemporary Art Center... is their plan bold enough in light of this development? Also, this will set a new bar if The Portland Art Museum expands in the next 5-10 years (like I suspect they will). In the past Portland has avoided great design in favor of prudent to decent design. OCAC, W+K and now this creates a totally new situation and level of expectations

Kuma states “Its careful growth is a very important cultural effort not only for Portland but also for the U.S. and Japan. This is to be our first public project in North America, and I am very happy that the project carries with it tremendous importance—not just for me but for others as well. I look forward to helping the Portland Japanese Garden take shape in its next steps, and hope to contribute something of lasting beauty and value to the city of Portland.”

The expansion project includes construction of new garden spaces, a cultural and education center, gift store and a tea house that will serve the public. The Garden will now turn its attention to a capital campaign to fund the expansion. As the project progresses, updates will be available on the Portland Japanese Garden website.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on January 17, 2011 at 13:55 | Comments (2)


Wow, this is amazing news! I LOVE the way pattern and repetition is used in Kengo Kuma's buildings.

I'm not sure what effect this will have, if any, on decisions that PNCA, YU, and eventually PAM make about their new buildings. As always, money will be the real deciding factor on all those projects, and folks as good as Kengo Kuma ain't cheap. Although, I'm sure Cloepfil is up for the job at the 511 building.

If anything, I hope this symbolizes Portland's move into a time when architectural design starts playing an important role in urban development. For Portland being a city that so heavily depends upon its creative community as its identity, there sure is a lack of outstanding architecture (the Aerial Tram is excluded from that statement). I mean, c'mon, Eugene has a building designed by Thom Mayne!

Posted by: Calvin Ross Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 17, 2011 06:41 PM

The Portland Japanese garden is one of the few world class designs in Portland and by getting Kuma they up the ante for all expansion plans. This effects YU, PAM, PNCA because though they are somewhat different institutions they all are in competition with donors and more importantly their expectations. Ultimately this competition is very good for any very serious institution as I often hear "world class" as a term bandied about while they demonstrate less than world class designs (it's a function of patron education).

What Kuma signifies is a new benchmark, pure and simple. The next question is how good will Kuma's (or cloepfil's) design be? I found YU to have a stunning building but their renovation plans seemed less sophisticated than the programming they seek to put on. Ultimately the programming at PAM, PNCA, the garden and YU are what will define them but so-so design is a kind of harbinger of what is to come.

Kuma doesn't really do so-so and it is why this is his first public commission in the USA. He can afford to be picky and it creates a measuring stick for everyone else. This is good news for PAM if they have designs on a Calatrava, Holl etc. expansion in the nearish future.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 18, 2011 02:50 PM

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