Designed as a garden rather than a building, the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum by Trahan Architects emulates the intricacy of bonsai, creating the perfect backdrop to experience its rare beauty.

Washington, D.C., United States

Located in the core of the US National Arboretum, the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum by American Architecture Award winner Viktor F. Trahan of Trahan Architects with Reed Hilderbrand LLC. for the National Bonsai Foundation responds to the conditions of its site and relies on the power of these rare trees, shaping a series of environmental scenarios rather than a typical museum.

The design houses the vast collection of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, which includes some of the finest trees and observation stones from around the world.

The museum is designed as an immersive and cohesive garden experience, meant to evoke awe and wonder while making connections to the larger landscape of the arboretum.

The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum recently received Honorable Mention in the 2022 International Architecture Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and the European Center 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 on a journey that creates a sense of mystery, where the lines between landscape and architecture are blurred, encouraging them to reflect on these unique cultural artifacts in a lush garden setting.

The design of the Bonsai and Penjing Museum establishes a pervasive grove of understory trees as the main image and identity of the museum.

Mixed species surround and frame the various exhibitions and the central courtyard.

The architecture is sober and practical, relying on the power of bonsai.

The garden walls arrange a winding path through the display and create multiple orientations for the bonsai – an elegant, neutral backdrop that allows generous air circulation to buffer the heat.

Charred wood posts and trellises rise above the exhibits to filter light and create a sense of enclosure.

Built with durable and simple materials, the pavilions can be read as a unified family of structures while framing subtle cultural differences between bonsai and penjing.

The design organizes the museum program around a central courtyard that directs the visitor to a network of paths leading to the four exhibition areas, an expanded classroom and administrative areas.

The exhibition spaces, designed as gardens rather than buildings, blur their boundaries with the larger surrounding garden to provide a continuous sense of surprise and discovery.

Project: National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum
Architects: Trahan Architects
Main architect: Victor F. Trahan
Landscape Architects: Reed Hilderbrand LLC.
Client: National Bonsai Foundation
Rendered by Design Distill


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