by Sunena V MajuJan 10, 2023
"Nature, if you made it expressive by reducing it to its abstract forms, could transmit the most profound thoughts by its simple presence.”
French scholar Michel Baridon's observation (on his studies of gardens and landscapes) is emblematic of Japanese Zen gardens. The Zen garden, in fact, explicates the essence of nature, shedding—through a process of abstraction—its physical form, to induce an environment that is conducive to meditation. Tanah Pottery, an artisanal studio in Ubud, Bali, extracts this essence of the stoneware that it produces, through its design and materiality, whether aesthetic, tactile, technical, or sensory.
Designed by Balinese architect Conchita Blanco of Blancostudio, the project is spread across 35 sqm, distributed across three sections—a primary customer front; a backend, a rear section; and a zen garden that separates the two. The customer-facing front accommodates a studio (exhibiting the stoneware), while the rear section includes a pottery factory and an administrative office.
Accessed from the west, the L-shaped, north-facing shop displays handcrafted ceramic tableware. The walls enclosing this space are constructed with a composition of rammed earth and leftover crushed Tanah terracotta tiles, which lend them their peculiar pinkish hue, and solid, natural texture.
The roof, also built of rammed earth, is reinforced with bamboo and dressed with limestone and iron-oxide finish to imitate the finish of the walls. This rammed earth slab is held up by a grid of exposed wooden, locally sourced Merbau beams and columns.
The open-plan layout of the pottery studio allows an almost museum-like circulation around a central display table, with shelves and informal seating pushed back to the periphery, along the walls. The circulation thus facilitates effortless viewing of all the objects, since they are in the visitor's circulation pathway. Coupled with ceiling track lights, the circulation warrants focused attention in the act of viewing the exhibits.
Furthermore, the shelves are designed as mere skeletal structures, an inconspicuous wooden backdrop that lets the stoneware triumph. An extended sill functions as a display table overlooking the street to the north, where the absence of a compound wall enables engagement with the street.
The zen garden intervening the front end and the back end is both a physical and an experiential transition between the two. A small rectangular strip, the landscape, surrounded by walls, and composed of a combination of grasses, bamboo plants, and gravel, typifies a zen garden. The landscape architect, Anton Clark, elaborates on the concept, “The landscape concept derives from the clean lines and raw, natural materials used by the architect. The plant design leans more toward a minimalist tropical “Zen” inspiration, to give a calm balanced planting style, with use of mondo grass, dwarf yellow bamboo, fountain grass, and hints of Ubud Bali with dwarf date, birds nest and of course frangipani, the stalwart of all Bali gardens. Raw grey gravel stone and large brown slate stepping from the north Bali mountains gives a modern Japanese slant to the tropical garden.”
While traditionally meant to be viewed from a single point (usually the porch of the chief monk’s residence in a monastery), the Tanah zen garden extends itself to be used as a transitory space between the two blocks.
Across the zen garden, the administrative block is divided into two spaces, the office and the pottery factory. The north-facing wall is glazed across its length and affords secondary vantage points in the garden.
The Tanah Artisans Studio is thus a manifestation of the essence of the hand-crafted tableware it produces (Tanah means 'earth' in Indonesian), abstracted to a point that evokes the essence of earth and nature through its built form and zen garden, respectively.