Event Recap • Illuminating a Cultural Icon

February 26, 2019 | | View Comments

Event Recap • Illuminating a Cultural Icon

Zachary Suchara, Principal at Luma Lightingdiscusses the lighting design process behind the newly-renovated Japanese Garden Cultural Village.

Since its opening in 1967, the Japanese Garden has been one of Portland’s most-visited cultural icons. Situated in the West Hills, the Garden serves as a place for visitors to step into another world and immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of the gardens. In April 2017, the Japanese Garden announced its new $37.5 million Cultural Crossing expansion. The new expansion includes the Cultural Village, designed by world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma; a Castle Wall, built by 15th generation stonemason Suminori Awata; and three additional garden spaces.

At the heart of the expansion is the Cultural Village, three new buildings centered around a stone courtyard, which offers visitors novel ways to experience Japanese culture. Kengo Kuma worked directly with Zachary Suchara and his team at Luma Lighting, along with Hacker Architects, to bring the vision of the village to life. Electrical illumination is carefully tempered and balanced within the Cultural Village, radically enhancing visitor experience without detracting from the natural beauty of the gardens.

Throughout each step of the design process, Zachary and his team looked to both the culture of Japan and the nature of the gardens to inform the needs of the project. This required constant evaluation and revaluation of their environment while adding electrical illumination to buildings. How did the light play off of the surrounding flora and fauna? How did the light interact with rough stonework versus refined wood paneling?

Zachary stressed the importance of balancing the interior and exterior light to create fluid transitions to and from the buildings, especially at nighttime. Concerned with visitors experiencing glare while moving through the main building and plaza, Kuma also wished to have the light fixtures hidden from plain sight. However, when dealing with wood screens and two dimensional spaces that people move through at varying angles, his request became quite challenging. 

By using an innovative layering technique and unique light placement, Zachary and his team were able to achieve the desired effect. He described the finished result while standing in the plaza as, “An incredibly soft embrace of light.”

The finished experience wouldn’t have been possible without Kuma’s vision for the Cultural Village to use less light. This atypical approach allowed the Japanese Gardens to remain as a space defined by where there is and is not light. Zachary explained, “A little light goes a long way, our eyes naturally adjust when given the chance.” Humans have the tendency to overlight everything and it’s impacting our world; the brighter we build our cities, the dimmer our night skies become.


What is Design Museum Mornings?

Design Museum Mornings is a monthly event series brought to you by Design Museum Portland. These events are meant to inspire you before your day begins and bring you closer to the Design Museum Portland community. Each event will include a short presentation by a local thought-leader, free breakfast, and great people to wake up with. These events are hosted and sponsored by various generous businesses of the Greater Portland area. If you are interested in hosting one of these events, please check out our host page here for more information.

Become a member to attend this event for free • Membership starts at just $5/month


Join us for our next Design Museum Mornings, Diversity to Equity, by Design lead by Nina Narelle and Katie Augsburger, co-founders of Future Work Design as they explore how systems of inequity are in fact, the results of historic, and contemporary, design. They’ll share provocative and actionable ways we can rethink our approach to the design of our organizations, our lives, and our identities, in a way that supports and enables a more equitable society, in which design belongs to all of us.