A design collaboration between a Japanese architect and an Australian artist led to the creation of a stunning pavilion for the NGV Triennial in Melbourne. Kengo Kuma and Geoffrey Nees came together to create the semi-circular pavilion using timber harvested from dead or felled trees at Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens.

Commissioned for the NGV Triennial, Botanical Pavilion provides a sensorial experience through the walkway that leads visitors to Korean artist Lee Ufan's 2017 painting titled ‘Dialogue’.

Based on traditional Japanese architecture, the tactile pavilion is entirely made of wood with the interlocking slats assembled as pieces of a puzzle, and held together merely by tension and gravity. Light streams through the slats, symbolising “a walk in a forest” as Kuma describes the Botanical Pavilion experience.

Botanical Pavilion’s journey began in 2014 when Nees approached Kuma with an idea to create a pavilion using wood from the Botanic Gardens.

The gallery-scale structure uses timber collected from trees felled or removed during the millennium drought (1996–2010) at the Royal Botanic Gardens. According to the NGV, some of the trees used in the pavilion even predate European colonisation, while others signal the evolution of the gardens as a site of scientific research and botanical classification.

However, the different timber species have been arranged by colour rather than any taxonomic order in the tessellated architectural pavilion. Kuma explained that colour was the most visible characteristic of the different species; therefore, the timber slats were arranged in a pattern with a dark to light colour gradient as visitors moved along the walkway.

"Botanical Pavilion is a sensorial journey in which visitors are exposed to different essences of wood from the botanical garden while walking through it," says Kuma.

According to Kuma, Botanical Pavilion features many recurring elements of his architectural philosophy such as the use of wood, aggregation of small particles, structural challenge, porosity, light and shade.

"In the design of this pavilion, small wooden pieces are assembled like a three-dimensional puzzle to form a structural arch. This approach is inspired by the Japanese carpentry tradition of using smaller elements, relying on joinery to achieve larger spans," he added.

Botanical Pavilion is on view at the NGV Triennial until 18 April 2021.

Photo credit: Installation view of Kengo Kuma & Associates and Geoffrey Nees’ Botanical Pavilion by Tom Ross.