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The Warmth of Woodworking

Photo by Bruce Forster

Nature is number one. The architecture needs to reflect that link back to nature.

– Balazs Bognar, Kengo Kuma and Associates

“Nature is number one. The architecture needs to reflect that link back to nature.” Those words from Balazs Bognar of Kengo Kuma and Associates as he sits on a large bench outside the Portland Japanese Garden’s Pavilion and runs his hands across its wooden surface.

“Kuma-san believes that the relationship of people to nature is one of the most fundamental things about being human. We use natural materials. It’s a direct way to link back to that textile understanding of nature, like the warmth of this wood we’re sitting on, for instance,” said Mr. Bognar, who is the Chief Manager of the Garden’s Cultural Crossing expansion project. Wood as a building material, Mr. Bognar said, should exude elegance. There was much intention in the selection process of the type of wood, as it should provide a sensory experience to make the project come to life. “The aroma is almost as important as the look and the feel. When Kengo Kuma viewed and felt the various samples of wood, without hesitation, he selected Port Orford cedar,” said Mr. Bognar.

Port Orford cedar is very close to Hinoki, a superior building material in Japan. The Southern Oregon wood is similar in scent, density, weight, and texture to Hinoki. “Just as Port Orford cedar is similar to Hinoki, using the cedar for the Cultural Crossing expansion makes the conscious cultural link between Oregon and Japan,” said Mr. Bognar.

It was also very important to Kuma-san that the primary building materials were locally sourced from the area to ensure that the new buildings adhere to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines. Using Port Orford cedar ensures neither beauty nor environmental responsibility is compromised. “It is a sensitive and subtly beautiful material that is strong, light, and very durable and timelessness,” said Dale Brotherton, a Japanese woodworking craftsman for just shy of 40 years.

Japanese woodworking craftsman Dale Brotherton works on the ceiling of what will be the Tea Café (the Umami Café by Ajinomoto) within the Cultural Village / Photo by Bruce Forster

Japanese woodworking craftsman Dale Brotherton works on the ceiling of what will be the Tea Café (the Umami Café by Ajinomoto) within the Cultural Village / Photo by Bruce ForsterIn the mid-90’s, a friend introduced Mr. Brotherton to the Portland Japanese Garden and he completed a few small Garden projects. Around 2005, he was reconnected with the new leadership through former Garden Board of Trustees member, John Hall and current Garden Board of Trustees member, Bill Hughes.

The first project of size that Mr. Brotherton created for the Garden was the temple style railing surrounding the main pavilion. Since then, he has made the wooden (amado) sliding doors and interior shoji for the Pavilion. He has done work for the ticket booth, and most recently, the Moongate which visitors now see as they enter the Natural Garden.

For the past several months, Brotherton has been working diligently on the ceiling of what will be the Tea Café (The Umami Café by Ajinomoto) within the Cultural Village. He is also building the shoji screens for several new buildings within the Cultural Village. He said ever since meeting Garden Curator, Sadafumi Uchiyama, he has been inspired by his enthusiasm and vision. This project is no exception.

“I met Sada when I first began working with the Garden many years ago. I feel we share a deep respect for each other’s training and understanding of traditional crafts,” said Mr. Brotherton. As Mr. Brotherton builds his pieces for the Garden from his woodworking studio in Seattle, he said each day he tries to stop, take a moment – and take in the smell of the wood he is crafting. Mr. Brotherton calls it purifying in nature.

“Almost like incense. In Japan it has therapeutic values,” he added.