The Portland Japanese Garden‘s largest improvement in a half century, an expansion to accommodate an increasing number of visitors, has been completed on time, despite bad weather, neighbor complaints and the $33.5 million cost.
On Sunday, April 2, the public will be able to see the results of years of fundraising and 20 months of construction to execute a concept by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, best known for designing the $1.5 billion National Stadium for the 2020 Olympic Games.
The ambitious project in Portland’s Washington Park has transformed land leading up to the hilltop entrance of the Japanese garden, considered one of the most authentic outside of Japan, but not the garden itself.
The expansion tacked 3.4 acres to the front of the 9.1-acre garden. The larger footprint allows for new educational facilities and event spaces for people interested in Japanese gardening and culture.
The visitor experience now starts at Southwest Kingston Avenue across from the International Rose Test Garden. An old driveway next to a parking lot has been replaced with a cedar-clad Welcome Center landscaped by a water terrace and cascading ponds.
Thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted along zigzagging paths, and garden curator Sadafumi Uchiyama has designed three distinct, new landscapes: A moss hillside garden, bonsai terrace and chabana (natural) garden.
Even more dramatic is the new, hilltop Cultural Crossing Village, three steel-and-glass pavilions linked by a large courtyard near the shuttle stop to the main garden.
A 185-foot-long “castle” wall made with 1,000 tons of Baker blue granite from an Eastern Oregon quarry and built using Shogun-period techniques defines the west side of the village.
Anchoring another side is a tea cafe, the first food and beverage service available at the 54-year-old garden.
Kabuki theater will be performed, art will be displayed and gardening workshops will take place inside the two other buildings, which also house a library, administration offices and a new gift shop that’s quadruple the size of the old one that grossed $1 million a year, according to the garden’s annual budget.
The Japanese Garden Society, the nonprofit foundation that runs the garden, is supported by admissions, membership dues, donations and retail sales.
Starting this weekend, admission to the garden will increased from $9.50 to $14.95, with discounts for children, students and seniors.
Funds for the expansion and to develop the International Institute for Japanese Garden Arts and Culture, scheduled to open in 2018, came from private donors, grants and state funding.
Donations include $8 million from Japanese Garden Trustees, $6 million from art patron Arlene Schnitzer, $4 million from Oregon and national foundations, $2.5 million from philanthropists in Japan, and more than $1 million from garden members.
The National Endowment for the Humanities provided a $500,000 matching grant to assist in the construction of the cultural educational center.
The garden’s yearly operating budget is $4.6 million, according to the most recent annual report.
In 2014, Portland Parks Recreation renewed the private garden’s lease at no cost and granted the additional acres.
That year, residents living near the garden who were notified of plans to expand the garden objected to the temporary closure of one link to the Wildwood Trail and proposed construction activities as well as the scale and environmental impact of the new buildings.
Expansion opponent Hilary Mackenzie, an architect and member of the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association, said Sunday that the commercial additions to the garden are double the approved size from the city’s land use decision, and have resulted in increased noise and congestion, and a loss of open space.
She said the garden didn’t honor promises to mitigate lighting to maintain a dark sky in the park and limit spillover to the neighborhood, or use bird safe construction practices. The garden’s work to remove invasive ivy and repair the hiking trail is ongoing.
“Allowing private development in our parks is not sustainable nor in the public interest,” Mackenzie stated.
The garden began in 1963 on the 5.5-acre site of the old Portland zoo. In 1967, the first year the garden was opened, there were 30,000 visitors. Attendance steadily rose and it is expected to reach 350,000 or more each year, according to garden research.
About 283,000 people visited during nine months in 2015 before the garden was closed from September 2015 through February 2016 to start construction. It reopened in March 2016 while construction continued, but closed this week to prepare for the expansion’s unveiling this weekend. Garden members will be allowed to tour the expansion on Saturday, April 1, a day ahead of the public.
Architect Kuma was selected through an international design competition and hired by the garden’s Chief Executive Officer Steve Bloom to design the new, energy efficient buildings and spaces that continue the ideas of original garden designer Takuma Tono.
The project is Kuma’s first U.S. commission and local architecture experts have voiced their approval.
“Kengo Kuma is internationally renowned for creating sublime and elegantly crafted buildings which are inspired by traditional Japanese architecture yet firmly rooted in their own time and place,” said Jonah Cohen of Hacker Architects, the Portland firm that executed the expansion plans with landscape architecture firm Walker Macy and Hoffman Construction Co.
Randy Gragg, director of the University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center for Architectural Studies and the Landscapes, stated: “The Portland Japanese Garden’s addition by Kengo Kuma and his team is a watershed moment for the city: Not just a masterful match of building design to site and purpose, but a reach, culturally, beyond our usual modest ambitions.”
Gragg added: “Kuma’s Cultural Crossing will stand with Alvar Aalto’s Mount Angel Abbey Library as one of those rare moments when a local institution remade itself — and created a fitting work of architecture — for the world.”
— Janet Eastman
If you go
611 SW Kingston Ave., 503-223-1321, japanesegarden.com
Hours: Noon-7 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday March 13-Sept. 30; noon-4 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday Oct. 1-March 12. The garden is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission has increased from $9.50 to $14.95, with discounts for children, students and seniors.