The Water Garden at Art Biotop Nasu designed by Junya Ishigami
The Water Garden at Art Biotop Nasu, designed by renowned Japanese architect Junya Ishigami, is a stunning garden that seamlessly blends contemporary design with traditional Japanese stroll garden concepts. Completed in 2018, the park is also called Mizuniwa (water garden in Japanese). It is located in Tochigi - at the foot of Mount Nasu – in a previously occupied site by woods, then turned into a rice field and, more recently, meadowlands.
“By maximizing the environmental potential of this land, we will create a new landscape that fuses density and relationship which do not coexist in nature,” declares its creator Ishigami. The garden has been designed to encourage visitors to engage with the landscape more meaningfully, enabling them to reflect on the relationship between humanity and the environment.
The resort site was created with a premium villa and restaurant, but this required the removal of 318 trees from the plot. To save the trees, a water garden was designed as Chito, a natural landform of scattered ponds. The designer suggested moving the trees to the hotel's meadows, a simple but meaningful solution. The garden represents different layers of the site's history: woods, rice fields, and meadowlands.
This layered approach, inspired by architecture and urban planning, offers an unedited view of nature and a new way of thinking about landscape design. This method creates a landscape comprising the original environmental components of the site but arranged in a new configuration that highlights the unique aspects of nature that humans can't make, resulting in a “new nature.” The layered approach is also adopted to blend art and landscape, architecture, and ecosystems, demonstrating the importance of merging design with its neighbor disciplines.
“I wish to think about architecture freely; to expand my perspective on architecture as flexibly, broadly, and subtly as possible, beyond the stereotypes of what architecture is considered to be.”, states Junia Ishigami. Born in Japan in 1974, he has a background of working at SANAA, before starting his own company in 2004. He has received recognition for his work on projects such as the Serpentine Pavilion in London and a solo display at the Japanese pavilion during the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale.
In 2019, Ishigami was honored with the Obel Award for his Biotop Water Garden project. The Obel Prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the field of architecture and is given to projects demonstrating excellence in design and sustainability. The jury's statement summarizes the project's worth: “Art Biotop Water Garden, with its intentional arrangement of natural elements, blurs the lines between architecture, landscape design, art, and environmentalism.” The concept of blending art and ecosystems is central to the design of the garden. The garden is a place to enjoy nature and an art exhibit showcasing the natural world's beauty.
The technology adopted to create the garden is cutting-edge. It employs various advanced techniques, such as recovering the ancient mechanism adopted to irrigate the paddies using the water from the Kami Kuro river. Furthermore, some trees would suffer if their roots were too close to the water. To avoid this, the architect provided waterproofing to all the ponds and added a steel frame reinforcement to the trees.
While the design approach and the technologies adopted are contemporary, the mizuniwa is also deeply connected and inspired by the traditional Japanese gardens. Starting from the scope and meaning of the park. The ancient book Sakuteiki – the oldest landscape design book in Japan – clarifies that the gardens are created to turn nature into a space livable by humans. The presence of steppingstones, moss, and water reminds the traditional Japanese stroll gardens, carefully planned to offer framed views at predefined locations along the path of the visitors.
Similarly, guests in this garden are invited to observe and contemplate nature by following the path created by the tobi-ishi (steppingstones). This almost pre-established route is intended to create moments of tension and release, similar to the Chinese narrowing-broadening compositional technique also adopted in traditional Japanese gardens. Walking through this two-dimensional labyrinth, one can experience the feeling of “mysterious profundity” described by the Japanese concept of Yūgen. This concept refers to beauty that cannot be seen directly but is more related to imagination and sensations. Water is another element that relates to tradition, with its ability to reflect, symbolizing the emptiness and purity of mind in Buddhism.
Ishigami deeply understands the purpose behind traditional Japanese gardens, which aim to create a more hospitable environment by accentuating the attractive elements of nature and mitigating the unpleasant ones. His Biotop Water Garden in Nasu reflects this understanding, envisioning a future where the relationship between man and nature becomes fluid and harmonious.