Washington, D.C., USA
Located within the U.S. National Arboretum’s Core, the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum by American Prize for Architecture laureate Viktor F. Trahan of Trahan Architects with Reed Hilderbrand LLC. for The National Bonsai Foundation responds to the conditions of its site and defers to the power of these rare trees, shaping a series of environmental scenarios rather than a typical museum.
The design houses the extensive collection of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, which includes some of the finest trees and viewing stones from across the globe.
The museum is conceived as an immersive and cohesive garden experience, intended to evoke awe and wonder while also drawing connections to the larger arboretum landscape.
The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum has recently been awarded a 2022 International Architecture Awards Honorable Mention by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
The architectural expression is subtle—composed of elemental components that respond to the unique environmental conditions of the site.
Visitors are invited to embark upon a journey that creates a sense of mystery, where the boundaries between landscape and architecture are blurred, encouraging them to reflect upon these unique cultural artifacts within a lush garden setting.
The design of the Bonsai and Penjing Museum establishes a pervasive grove of understory trees as the principal image and identity of the museum.
Mixed species surround and frame the various exhibitions and the central court.
The architecture is restrained and practical, deferring to the power of the bonsai.
Garden walls organize a meandering path through the display and create multiple orientations for the bonsai—an elegant, neutral backdrop that allows generous air circulation to mitigate heat.
Charred wood posts and trellises rise above the exhibitions to filter light and shape a sense of enclosure.
Built of durable, simple materials, the pavilions can be read as a unified family of structures while framing subtle cultural differences between the bonsai and penjing.
The design organizes the museum’s program around a central courtyard that orients the visitor to a network of paths that lead to the four exhibition areas, an expanded classroom, and administrative areas.
The exhibition spaces, conceived as gardens rather than buildings, blur their boundaries with the larger, surrounding garden to offer a continuing sense of surprise and discovery.
Project: National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum
Architects: Trahan Architects
Lead Architect: Victor F. Trahan
Landscape Architects: Reed Hilderbrand LLC.
Client: The National Bonsai Foundation
Renderings by Design Distill