Metal Architecture Home

Inspired by Nature

Madesign  Cultural5

The new Cultural Center at the Portland Japanese Garden fits the calming presence

"In a word: nature," says Balazs Bognar, AIA, chief manager of Kengo Kuma and Associates, Tokyo, and design director for the Cultural Center at the Portland Japanese Garden. That's the word he chose to describe what inspired the project. "The existing garden was already an established and impressive, if calming presence, by the time we were asked to understand the site. Our response aims to preserve the tranquility of the current five gardens and to strengthen our experience of nature. The architecture therefore intentionally takes a backseat to the landscape, as a beautiful backdrop."

The Cultural Center is four separate buildings. One, a ticketing pavilion, is at street level, where the visitor first experiences the garden, and the other three are grouped at the top of the hill just before visitors enter the gate. "The three buildings maintain a much smaller presence than one, larger, imposing volume," Bognar says. Each of the buildings features a vegetative roof and an aluminum porch-like roof that wraps it and provides a protective canopy.

The shape and nature of the aluminum roofing is what caught the judges' eyes and earned this project the top nod in the metal roofing category.


A Communal Village

"The upper roofs borrow vegetation motifs from the surrounding trees," says Bognar, "while the stone in the lower-level paving takes place both inside and outside the buildings. The randomly spaced vertical louvers hint at the trunks of the Pacific Northwest trees in the background. And the roofs and overall volumes are kept low to keep a modest presence when viewed from the gardens."

The project is more than just the buildings, of course, and required a careful integration with the gardens. The Portland Japanese Garden curator, Sadafumi Uchiyama, served as landscape architect. The buildings are spaced to open to the garden and suggest a communal village.

"All spaces have a direct connection to the outside (both at lower and upper levels)," says Bognar, "and all of the corners in the project open to reveal the cantilevered roofs-unimpeded space and activity flows to and from the courtyard beneath these covered outdoor corners. The full-village configuration thus zigzags when viewed in plan, which further hides the volumes of the buildings, and allows for pockets of human-scaled space and rooms with views in multiple directions."


Material Choice

The architecture is more of a backdrop to the gardens, and because of that "its material and surface have to soften the volumes into the surroundings," Bognar says. "The metal roofs were, in fact, a series of materials that incrementally softened from stone on the courtyard surface to metal for the lower roofs to vegetated panels on the upper roofs, and finally to the actual context of the Pacific Northwest firs and cedars. The metal is part of the gradient."

Pure + Freeform, Oakdale, Minn., supplied the aluminum, designing a custom finish called Celeste Stone. According to the company's creative director, Geoffrey Hahn, "The metal is meant be reminiscient of a metal roof Kengo Kuma had used in a garden in Japan, which was a pure metal and heavy. So it needed to be lighter, and it needed to have a gutter system." Bognar adds, "Initially the finish was to be a hand-applied one, consisting of three coats of various colors of enamel baked onto the aluminum plate. Since the craftsman capable of such a technique could not handle such volume, we turned to our collaborators at Pure + Freeform. The result is a beautifully textured, digital version of an analog finish."

The aluminum panels are wide and have channels between them that serve to funnel off the water. The installation of the roof was done by Vancouver, Wash.-based Bassett Construction. Vice president of marketing and business development, Jerry Wiant says, "The joints in the upper rainscreen roof panel allow rainwater to drain through to a secondary stainless steel water diversion system." The system is unique and was designed specifically for the Cultural Center.

Bassett used a larger-than-usual crew to manage the panels, which were fabricated from the largest material available and shipped from Japan. The company also needed to develop additional fall-safety mechanisms since some of the roof was over steep slopes. Because the roof needed to be walkable and there were unique wind-load requirements because of the hillside location, Bassett designed a supporting fin system for the underside of the panels. That element, in particular, caught the judges' eyes.


Photos: Bruce Forster


The Cultural Center at the Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, Ore.

Completed: April 2017
Total square footage: 20,191 square feet
Owner: Portland Japanese Garden
Architect: Kengo Kuma and Associates, Tokyo,
General contractor: Hoffman Construction, Portland,
Landscape architect: Sadafumi Uchiyama, Portland Japanese Garden,
Metal roofing fabricator/installer: Bassett Construction, Vancouver, Wash.,
Aluminum supplier: Pure + Freeform, Oakdale, Minn.,