Kyoto Prefectural Reception Hall
The teahouse nestles into a high corner of the garden, with the pond at the opposite lower corner adjacent to the reception hall.
The Kyoto Prefectural Reception Hall is an oasis hidden in the middle of the city of Kyoto. The building houses two main functions: a multipurpose hall open to the public, which allows only a glimpse into the surprising natural scenery of the garden, and a formal reception room used to entertain dignitaries visiting from abroad, which opens out to the lush welcoming greenery. Designed with layers of spaces ascending a gentle hillside and defined by the varied heights of shrubs and trees, the garden appears much larger than its actual size.
A terrace faced with a grid of stone tiles extends from the reception hall out toward the garden. A gentle expanse of grass and water, bounded on one side by a wing of the L-shaped building and edged with rounded bushes and leaf-filled trees, greets the visitor in a welcoming gesture of openness and abundance.
Although the sharp geometry of the terrace contrasts the gentle character of the garden, it has a strong spatial and physical connection to the garden. At one end the pond slips underneath the stone platform, while at the two locations where doors open from the hall onto the terrace, textured stepping-stones break into the gridded stone surface and lead into the garden.
Designed both to be observed from inside the hall and while following the paths that lead through it, the garden offers a variety of multisensory experiences. Two primary focal points—a waterfall at one side of the garden and a teahouse at the other—are nestled within the lush trees. The traditional design of the teahouse contrasts the reception hall building, giving foreign visitors a glimpse into Japan’s history. Water cascades over the falls into the stream meandering down the hillside, guided by rough stone borders and edged with azalea bushes and other greenery, providing a soothing backdrop of natural sounds.
The paths lead through the layers of the garden, first across the open expanse of the slightly rolling grass-covered lawn and then among the layers of rock and shrub groupings, past the stream and waterfall to the teahouse waiting bench and the teahouse itself. At certain points along the path, the garden is designed for glimpses back to the reception hall, creating a continuous experience of changing yet familiar views.
Glimpses of the teahouse, with its entrance gate set off to one side, are visible across the lawn in the foreground and beyond the hedges and trees in the middle ground of the garden.
The rough textures and varied shapes of the stepping-stones contrast with the grid of the tiled terrace and bring the garden space under the eaves of the reception hall.
The garden slopes down toward the reception spaces with layered hedges and a meandering stream that flows into the pond and under the terraces anchored by islands.
Stepping-stones lead from the gate to the teahouse. Moving carefully from stone to stone emphasizes the transition from the everyday world to the mindset of the tea ceremony.
For nighttime viewing, strategically placed lights illuminate the main elements of the garden, such as the ryūmonbaku (“dragon’s gate waterfall”), in sixteen different scenes.
Both carved from stone, the chōzubachi (water basin) expresses refined symmetry and the Tōrō (lantern) contrasts the precise geometry of a circle within an irregular shape.
The garden of the Kyoto Prefectural Reception Hall is planned with one especially unusual element. As the hall often is used at night, the garden is designed to be viewed both in the daylight and with artificial light. But rather than a static series of spotlights within the garden, a computer-controlled sequence of lighting effects provides a continually changing experience.
In a fifteen-minute cycle, soft lights lead the eye to different focal points throughout the garden—emphasizing in turn the waterfall, rock groupings, arrangements of closely clipped azalea bushes, a tōrō (stone lantern) and chōzubachi (wash basin), and the like.
The lighting is another device skillfully used to connect the interior space of the formal reception hall with the exterior spaces of the lush, welcoming garden. Through this integration of contemporary technology and traditional techniques, the design of the Kyoto Prefectural Reception Hall garden also reinforces Masuno’s goal of creating spaces that engage the viewer’s imagination and sense of self-awareness.
Carp add color and movement within the pond—another element that expresses the temporal quality of nature within the garden.