Temple of Meditation

The Meditation House at the Kranzbach wellness hotel is a deeply touching place that profoundly merges both nature and architecture. This magical environment was made possible by the unlikely collaboration of a Bavarian hotelier and the talented Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

Just walking the path from the main Kranzbach hotel building to the pavilion puts one in a meditative state. A 200-meter-long narrow footpath winds through the middle of the forest and leads to a small clearing. There, surrounded by spruce and beech trees, moss, and ferns, stands probably the most hidden work of exceptional architecture in all of Germany, the Meditation House by the world-famous architect Kengo Kuma.

“Closed on the windward side, the pavilion opens up on its three other faces towards the forest through its panoramic windows. The west-facing window front opens all the way,” explains Jakob Edinger, the Kranzbach CEO. Green vegetation is visible in every direction. Some trees stand so close to the building that it makes you wonder how construction could ever have occurred without touching the surrounding woodland. Those who meditate here enjoy a number of benefits – the proximity to nature, the Zen-like atmosphere of the space, and the fragrance of wood.

“A prominent feature of the building is the geometric pattern emerging from the back wall, which is formed by the intertwining of 1550 hand-finished shingles made of local silver fir. Like a three-dimensional sculpture, it initially rises vertically and then spreads out horizontally over the ceiling of the entire room,” says Edinger. The roof is covered in zinc sheeting, which is commonly used on churches. It is, therefore, no wonder that he refers to his Meditation House as a “temple.”

© Hotel Kranzbach GmbH/David Schreyer

The story of how the Meditation House came into being is just as remarkable as experiencing the building itself. As Edinger was considering constructing a meditation pavilion in the woods for his hotel, his son, an architect, provided the decisive inspiration. He suggested that in order to do justice to the Asian roots of meditation, it would be fitting to engage an architect who had roots in Asian culture. And preferably an architect from Japan, because building with wood has a centuries-old tradition there. It did not take long to decide upon Kengo Kuma. The only problem was that he is the foremost architect of Japan and had already taken on major projects like the Olympic stadium in Tokyo.

How would it be possible to convince the greatest architect in Japan to design a 150-square meter hut in the middle of a Bavarian forest? The Erdingers decided to approach him the old-school way. “We simply sat down and wrote a personal letter. We had it translated into Japanese and sent it off.” The initial response was neither a confirmation nor a rejection. His office replied that as a matter of principle, Kengo Kuma does not take on any projects without having personally seen the property. During his next trip to Europe, the Kranzbach organized a stopover in Germany and the hotelier picked up the Japanese architect at the Munich airport.

© Hotel Kranzbach GmbH/David Schreyer

“The ride was a rather silent journey. Kengo Kuma allowed himself to soak in the new surroundings and spoke very little, which is not considered impolite in Japanese society,” explains Edinger. Once having arrived in the village of Klais in Werdenfelser Land near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Kuma immediately wanted to survey the forest. He looked up into the treetops, observed the sun and the wind, and, after two hours in the small clearing, finally said, “This is the spot. We will build it here!”

The architect departed, tendered his professional fee, to which Edinger agreed, and submitted two design proposals. After the final design was chosen, work started. STUDiO LoiS from Innsbruck realized the design as the on-site “local architects” in cooperation with small, local, family-run craft workshops. The degree of respect shown to nature in constructing the building is revealed in one detail alone: Instead of using heavy equipment, work in the forest was carried out by the agriculturist and forester Josef Neuner with his horse.

© Hotel Kranzbach GmbH/David Schreyer

The Meditation House has been open since September 2018. Group meditation sessions take place here daily, and hotel guests can even reserve the space for a few hours for individual use. And what does this magical place do for its visitors? “We have experienced a vast range of reactions. The house can truly benefit those who are receptive to it,” says Edinger. Many guests are almost in raptures after an hour-and-a-half session followed by a tea ceremony. Others break into tears, as they were not prepared for the experience.

The vision of the architect has been realized. It is not the size of a project that appeals to him, but the intellectual challenge and the strength of its content. He aims to touch people deep inside with his architecture. This mission has certainly succeeded with the Meditation House.