Zen practice seeks – without seeking – enlightenment. It is about simplicity, harmony, mindfulness, and serenity. The designed complex is a retreat for extended meditation near the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a few miles outside Austin, Texas. The program includes a hall for zazen (seated meditation), group dining area, lecture space, kitchen, kinhin (walking meditation) path, private cabins for the roshi and assistant roshi, workshop, greens garden, administrative offices, and reception.
Two competing logics were employed in the design of this project:
First, inspiration came from the enso. This ancient zen symbol, known as the ‘circle of enlightenment,’ is said to contain the entire universe in a single brushstroke. It is emptiness and fullness, presence and absence, beginning and end. The enso is inherently beautiful in its imperfection.
Second, by deriving geometry – in a Vitruvian manner – from the human body in seated meditation, the predominant circle and inscribed triangle exhibit a centeredness and connectedness characteristic of Zen practice. Here, beauty relies on the purity and perfection of platonic forms.
The main pavilion, titled ‘The Enso,’ combines the imperfection and contradiction of the Zen symbol with the perfection and strict purity of geometry. It houses zazen, kinhin, dining, and lectures – representing functions of spirit, body, and mind – around a central rock garden. Entry and exit is through any of three concrete genkans (Japanese entry rooms) where one stops to sit and remove his shoes. Once inside, three levels are presented: a rock garden at grade, a circulation deck at 18” above grade, and the occupied platforms at 36” above grade. The three open-air platforms feature operable white curtains at the perimeter that open to views of the Texas Hill Country. To the interior, Shoji screens can separate platform from circulation deck during times of meditation or private function. The bright, sunlit rock garden draws attention to the pavilion’s center. Within the garden, six massive concrete columns support a roof of interlocking, glue-laminated wood beams that redirect attention to the surrounding landscape. The inward emphasis of the rock garden and geometrical layout is counteracted by the outward emphasis of the structure and curtains.
Connections found in ‘The Enso’ between mind, body, and spirit, inward and outward, perfection and imperfection are intended to encourage a wholeness of being. This combination of contradictions is an effort to physically represent the path to enlightenment.