The Asian Garden House at Chanticleer Gardens

The Asian Garden House at Chanticleer Gardens

by Diane M. Fiske

Visitors who reach the far end of the 35-acre Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne can thank a Chestnut Hill architect for helping them realize that they are, in fact, in the Asian Gardens and they have left the areas that are designed around other themes.

The Asian Garden building, which looks very much like a Japanese tea house, has two large windows with 16 panes each. Between the two wings of the building, a shallow pool with stones in the base catch rainwater falling from the roof to help irrigate plants.

Mary Holland, of Cicada Architecture/Planning in Chestnut Hill, won a competition to design the building, which serves as a rest area and center for the Asian Woods, one of the themed areas in the former estate of Adolph Rosengarten, which was built in 1912 and opened to visitors in 1993. It is now managed by a foundation.

There are no labels or signs to mark the area as Asian.

“We think the experience here should be restful, and we have no labels,” said Edward Hincken, facilities manager. “Anyone who wants to identify a tree or plant can ask a staff member.”

Better yet, they can see Holland’s design at the end of a long path through the estate and realize they have arrived in the Asian area and they have left the Edward Hopper era scenery.

Inside the Asian Garden building, the men and women’s restrooms are lined with colorful tiles rescued from a building on the estate that burned down many years ago and were saved to be reused.

Holland won the right to design the building after Hincken traveled to Japan and visited several sites and, in the process, apparently decided her design compared well with to the buildings in the Far East.

“When he returned, he approved my plan,” Holland said.

She said the idea was designed around the feng shui concept.

“All he major rooms face south, certain elements reflect the landscape and the entrance is placed on the southwest corner so the qi (good spririts) can enter,” Holland said.

The task was to design the traditional Asian courtyard home using colors as they do in he Far Eastern countries in traditional buildings but maintaining the subtle quality of Chanticleer. It would have to have sustainable features and utilize local materials such as the rescued tiles.

As her design turned out, the outer walls of the building are a cream color plaster with natural wood in a band around the bottom of the two eaves. The roof is slate with a yellow color underneath. Two large windows on the front of the garden building are divided into the 16 small panes each. Inside the buildings the two wings hold the men’s and women’s restrooms embedded with colorful tiles and filled with lush green plants. In the winter the building is heated to house delicate plants when the garden is closed to the public.

In the middle between the two wings is a gravel bed that helps retain water to irrigate plants from rainwater.

“Originally we were concerned about storm water, “ she said. “With this, as storm water fills up the eaves, it falls into a wooden bed which is filled with rocks and gravel.”

The water is retained for use in the garden.

Until a new sewer system made the whole project possible, Holland said, architectural design couldn’t overcome the basic need for water in a building that had been needed for hardy Chanticleer hikers for a long time. The solicitation for bids came after the water system was secured.

Hencken said he was strongly impressed by architecture in Japan.

“In Japan, there is a sudden influence in bright color and a difference in roofs, “ he said. “Regarding the Asian courtyard building Holland designed, he added: “We are very happy and so are our guests. It is a little jewel box on many levels.”

Hincken said about 44,000 visitors came to Chanticleer last year and roughly about a quarter of those were from Northwest Philadelphia, a number gleaned from guest passes.