Zen Lounge I ONO/KYOTO

Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Hiroyuki Hirai

Kyoto Ono is a “store” dealing in religious vestments and Buddhist altar articles for the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. Business is not conducted here as in ordinary stores. First, the customers are mainly priests of the Soto sect. This is a place where talks are held with such persons, and the fact that vestments and articles are sold is secondary to those talks. Thus this was required to be, first of all, a space for conversations. The client wanted a space that was as unobtrusive as possible–a store that was not recognized as such by passersby–even though the place faces a major street in the middle of the city.
Designing this building was more like designing just the living room of a house or a hermitage in the middle of the city than designing a store. The place is indeed unlike other stores.
The space is defined by a number of surfaces. There are the horizontal surfaces of the floating toko alcove and tables. For these I used slightly unusual finishes: Japanese chestnut and zelkova with an adz finish. These are parts with which people come into direct contact, and I was especially careful in selecting the materials.
There are three vertical surfaces. The first is a floating screen of steel plate situated on the inside of a pane of glass that is partly transparent and partly frosted. This screen, which shuts out views from the street and introduces only light, is made of six-millimeter thick steel plate with a “black rust” finish. The second is a brick wall in the middle of the space, and the third is an L-shaped surface of fabric.
The space is made from only the three vertical surfaces–the solid and tensile surface of steel plate, the hard and heavy wall of brick and the soft surface of fabric–and the two horizontal surfaces of entirely different materiality.
My intention was to limit the elements to horizontal and vertical surfaces and to display in the space composed of those minimal elements a wealth of different material qualities.
To create a retreat in the middle of the city is to produce a space that is psychologically isolated in a place that is separated from the hustle and bustle of the city by only a single pane of glass or tens of centimeters in actual distance.
However, I am not at all certain that this constitutes the right solution for the store, which is named “Dogen” after the founder of the Soto sect. Given the exalted associations of this establishment, it seems arrogant of me even to suggest the possibility of a solution.