By Chris Bakker & Leoné Wierenga from GASS Architecture Studio; edited by Leon Louw
Taking the vision of the client and inspiration from the Japanese teahouse, the main challenge of this brief was to re-interpret the traditional.
Basic principles of Japanese architecture were employed to create a spatial experience that still encompass the ritual and spiritual aspects, but in a more contemporary expression.
The structure was positioned and designed in such a way to create a visual floating effect with structural elements tying it back to the mountain slope, the exterior deck-line and seemingly flat roof with a deep overhang create a strong sense of horizontality, with a deep recessed vertical structure that fixes the building into a levelled-out plinth disappearing into the natural fynbos landscape.
Lawned terracing steps next to the plinth of the Kyudojo lead you up to the elevated level and resembles the start of the ritual, while also defining a clear line between man-made and the natural surrounding fynbos environment. Strict geometry, balance and rhythm guides the space, creating a calm, harmonious and almost spiritual experience. This is further enhanced by sliding screen doors on three sides allowing the internal space to be extended onto an exterior wrap-around walkway floating above a gravel and rock garden. Posts between sliding doors act as the main structural elements, whilst simultaneously keeping the geometric rhythm and framing the magnificent views of the fynbos covered mountain on the north and beautiful ocean views on the south.
Soft light filters the space from all four sides of the Kyudojo through clerestory windows, which reinforces the concept of the ‘floating’ flat roof. Sliding screen doors with white opaque glass windowpanes also contribute to the magnificent light quality in the space. These doors reference the rice paper screens used in traditional Japanese architecture, whilst ensuring climatic comfort to the inside of the Kyodojo. One solid symmetrical facade roots the structure in ritual, and defines the entrance and exit into the space.
Spruce was used for most of the structural timber elements, due to its structural integrity and stability. The pale grey-yellow colour of the timber visually present the dojo as more contemporary – in comparison to the darker colour of the traditional structures.
Garapa, a beautifully finished grey-looking timber which is easy to work with and requires low maintenance, was used for the wrap-around deck. Detailed inlays of Jatoba are introduced on the corners of the deck as a subtle, yet decorative nod to the intricate craftmanship of Japanese
Architecture. All timber used was procured from local suppliers who rely on sustainable sourcing.
GASS Architecture Studio
Kyudojo for owner Sandy Herman, Onrus, Hermanus
Completed end 2020.
Architects: Chris Bakker & Leoné Wierenga – GASS Architecture Studio
Structural Engineer: Eward Grobler – Grobler and Associates
Carpenter: Greg Cleaver from Cleaver Woodcraft.
By owner Sandy Herman
Kyudo…the way of Japanese archery, is an art and , not a sport and is based on the principles of truth, beauty and goodness. Save for a bow and arrow, it has nothing in common with any other forms of archery.
Kyudo, or, ‘the way of the bow’, shares much in common with the Japanese tea ceremony (Chado)… calligraphy (shado), swordsmanship (kendo) weapons (kobudo) and the various ‘other ways’ which so effectively mirrors the heart and mind of the Japanese.
Kyudo is rich in history and tradition and is regarded as the purest of all Budo (martial ways). Hunting, war, court games and the Japanese bow as a weapon is in the past. Today, Kyudo is practiced primarily as a method of physical, moral and spiritual development.
Kyudo is often said to be like life itself: multifaceted and paradoxical. Ask a novice what Kyudo is and the answer given will be a detailed explanation of the technical and mental aspects. Ask a master of the art and he will usually reply with a simple “I don’t know”.
He is neither being evasive nor falsely modest, instead, his answer reflects an understanding of the complexity and depth of Kyudo.
Walking the way of Kyudo, one is never disappointed by failure, which we see as a learning experience that provides an opportunity for growth. The basic tenet of Kyudo is that any shot, even one that is seemingly perfect can be improved not at a technical level, but the mind, or spirit, which has unlimited potential for growth.
The practice of Kyudo is endless; the reward comes not from the attainment of perfection, but from its unending pursuit.
Kyudojo… a place to practice Kyudo, is a sacred space where introspection rules supreme…”walking zen” is an apt description.
I am humbled and most grateful to Japan and it’s wonderful people for their invaluable cultural contribution to the world in general and for the opportunity to enrich my life with purpose and meaning.
So on this large continent of Africa, with the assistance of my architect, we were guided by examples of ancient traditional tea house examples and similar cultural buildings in Japan, to express our gratitude.
And the result? This authentic Japanese Kyudojo, the only example of its kind in Africa, was constructed here on the very southern tip of this African continent….to shine as a beacon of light in honour of Japanese culture.
Other projects by GASS Architecture Studio
GASS Architecture Studio designed the first green school to open its doors in South Africa recently. The school, in Paarl in the Western Cape Province of South Africa is spread over eight hectares and is modelled on the first Green School established in Bali in 2008. The South African version is only the third in a planned international network of Green Schools, following the establishment of the second campus in New Zealand.
Constructed from naturally and locally sourced materials, the school is powered by solar-generated electricity, and the water balance has been carefully calculated to ensure that water extracted from the river and borehole is replenished with rainwater received. Administrative buildings and classrooms are set within vegetable gardens, orchards, and grain fields.
The school will open in line with government regulations on 15 February 2021, with a planned enrolment of 150 learners and 15 teachers. The Green School offers education from kindergarten to Grade 8 in 2021 and will expand to provide education up to Grade 12 by 2025. The school aims to maintain a ratio of one teacher to 10 learners.
The Green School South Africa campus is spatially defined by Paarl Rock, the Drakenstein Mountains and Simonsberg. The spatial arrangement at a macro level is what inspired the space making at the site-specific scale, and down to the individual buildings and spaces between them.
The campus constitutes of various clusters of buildings, nestled in amidst orchards, vegetable gardens, meandering routes, landscaped terraces and spill-out spaces. A series of organic shaped ‘werf’ walls weave the individual clusters of buildings into a coherent whole, creating a world of passageways and spaces for learners to discover. While waterbodies are connected with ‘lei water’ channels that are gravity fed, both referenced from the vernacular, Cape Dutch Architecture. The positions of the different zones and buildings have been carefully considered, taking into account passive design principals, feng shui and the Living Building petals. The result being harmonious spaces where humankind and nature can reconnect.
To further enhance this idea, all buildings are constructed from naturally and locally sourced materials to integrate the object within its surroundings. These organic shaped buildings with large oversailing leaf-like roof structures, punched openings, bay windows, clerestory windows, textured screening elements, create enticing and playful spaces for children to engage and explore.