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Nakashima Site History

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Aerial view of George Nakashima Woodworker property before the Arts Building and  Cloister . Circa early 1960s. Source: George Nakashima Woodworker.
George Nakashima: Elegant Craftsman
Filmed in 1985 for the National Geographic Explorer, the above documentary profiles George Nakashima  at the time  shortly after the Altar of Peace Project was launched ( October 1, 1984). The Altar of Peace Project precedes the George Nakashima Foundation for Peace, current owner of the Arts Building and Cloister.

George Nakashima Woodworker Complex

In 1946, George Nakashima established his workshop in New Hope having bought a three-acre property along Aquetong Road in exchange for carpentry work. This was the origin of a larger woodworker complex where Nakashima brought all his earlier professional, personal, and spiritual apprenticeships in Europe, Japan, and India together. These experiences were interpreted and synthesized in his architecture and led to the construction of the Arts Building in the mid-1960s.     

When George Nakashima (1905-1990) decided to build the Arts Building, he had already designed and built eight buildings at the property, answering the demand of a business in expansion. The site complex integrates the best of Nakashima's architecture, furnishings, landscape, and woodworking.

Only a few examples stand outside his property in New Hope: Ben Shahn's house expansion (mid-1960s) in Roosevelt, New Jersey, the Catholic Church of the Christ the King (1965) in Katsura, Japan, the Chapel of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert (1972) in New Mexico, and La Soledad Chapel (1975) at San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The link above shows a timeline of the development of the site from the arrival of George Nakashima and his family to New Hope, Pennsylvania, sponsored by Antonin Raymond, until his death in June 15th, 1990. 

The Arts Building and Cloister (1964-1967)
As in his previous experience in Pondicherry, India, Nakashima had been constructing scaled models to understand and control the practical details for a subsequent larger construction. In the case of the Arts Building, Nakashima used the hyperbolic paraboloid roof technology previously experimented at the Main Lumber Storage Building in 1958, in which the American, Hungarian born, Paul Weidglinger (1914-1999) acted as the consulting engineer.

While the use of a hyperbolic paraboloid roof expressed in plywood was decided from the beginning by Nakashima, as early as 1963, the exteriors, general layout, and elevations evolved during the conception phase. Construction started in May 1964 and continued until April 1967. Paul Weidlinger Engineers, chiefly associate Matthys P. Levy, were the consultants for both the plywood deck and the reinforced concrete elements.  Robert Lovett was the main contractor on the day-to-day construction.

In the front area, Nakashima introduced a pond, which separted the Arts Building terrace from the more restrained Cloister and integrated a water feature as a functional and visual element in the architecture. Together with other designed and topographic features, this action reveals an intended poetic and experiental relationship between architecture and landscape, as Nakashima desired in following traditional Japanese principles. 

In addition, the compound embodied a spiritual and educational dimension through Nakashima's engagement with Minguren, a newly organized group of designer-craftsmen based in Japan. However, the building was initially intended to exhibit graphic works by Nakashima's artist friend Benjamin Shahn (1898-1969) along with his furniture. After Shahn's death, in 1969, Nakashima decided to install a mosaic based on a gouache by Shahn. The mosaic was fabricated in Chartres, France, by Gabriel Loire Atelier, shipped to New Hope in October 1970, and eventually installed on the concrete wall on the northwest elevation of the building.

In 2003, widow Marion Nakashima gifted the building to the Foundation for Peace.

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George Nakashima standing in front of  the northwest elevation of the Arts Building. Ca. 1967. Source: George Nakashima Woodworker.
Nakashima Funding