Design Inspiration – Natural Materials

After driving down a dusty, one-lane road in the Ventana Wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest, the lush hideaway of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center seems to appear out of nowhere.

If you’ve never been there, Tassajara Zen Monastery is the oldest Japanese Buddhist monastery built outside of Japan and is open to guests during the spring and summer months.

Tassajara Zen Monastery

Photos by Bethany Opalach

Built as a linear village that follows the path of a single creek with only one circulation spine, the Zen Monastery has one main structure, the Japanese meditation hall resting in the middle of the community. It was built using purely traditional Japanese materials and techniques. Beautiful stone masonry adorns the dwellings which makes the whole place feel serene yet secure, tranquil and timeless.

Often, meditation centers or resorts, have one prime gathering spot that is always occupied by lots of people all wanting to be alone, but Tassajara offers many, maybe more than 50, gathering spots so you can always find yourself tucked away in a comfortable nook.

Tassajara Zen Monastery

Photos by Bethany Opalach

The architecture of the place has been completely integrated into the natural surroundings which makes the whole place feel, well, zen. From the rippling of the creek that offers a constant soundscape to your experience to the natural materials used in the structures—all wood and stone—to the gravel paths that the monks rake each morning to the native plants lining all the passageways—the design of the community is simple and authentic.

The Zen Monastery at Tassajara is a good reminder of how much natural materials can enhance not only a structure but one’s state of mind.

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Buchanan Opalach Architects, BOA, is an Oakland-based, award-winning architecture firm