Work on the platform design and placement of the new Bell Tower began in earnest in the spring of 2015.
There were several considerations that went into the placement of the Bell Tower.
The first was the relationship to the current structures – the Zendo, most importantly, and also the Tea House, Still Water Hall, and other outbuildings.
The second was the relationship to the creek – it is best practices (and Marin County Planning Code) to build new structures at least 100 feet from any creek to protect riparian habitat.
The third was the idea – an idea that in large part organized and animated the 2008 Long-Term Vision and Restoration Plan for Green Gulch Farm – that eventually (50-100 years) we would re-build all the buildings that are in the historic creek bed outside of the riparian zone, and “free the creek.” The area around the “lawn” was envisioned as a site that would work for a new kitchen dining room complex, as well as a new Zendo (built in relation to the new kitchen, for formal oryoki meals). We wanted the current bell tower location to work with these possible future buildings.
The Bell Tower planning group got together to look at the site and understand the dimensions of the Bell Tower in relation to the other buildings.
Central Abbess Linda Ruth Cutts stood in for the Obonsho bell, while Thiemo Blank, Head of Maintenance, showed us the peak of the roof:
In this next photo, Tea Sensei Meiya Wender joined them as the Shoten (person who ceremonially strikes the bell), with a shovel standing in for the striker.
The site and platform was designed by landscape architect Mike Bourne, assisted by Jamie Morf. Both Mark and Jamie have worked on different projects at Green Gulch over many years.
Among other projects, Mark designed and installed the landscaping around the Lindesfarne Guest House:
and renovated the Roji (tea house garden):
When asked about the design process, Mark wrote:
“The layout of the foundation for the bell tower was driven by the combination of a Japanese temple bell, and the strong Japanese influence of the bell tower design. In the case of the structure, the influence is not only the choice of Japanese joinery assembled by master carpenters Mike Laine and Ryosei Kaneko, but their attention to the proportions of Japanese structures.
From the standpoint of the bell, the base anchors the tower to the ground. There is another view of what is at play: I hope that it is not misleading to bring the phenomenology of Martin Heidegger into a description of Zen practice in a Californian setting – when stated as such, it seems altogether too loosely eclectic – however, it was Heidegger who brought the vital sense of gathering together the myriad things to the attention of Western philosophy. Heidegger wrote that the act of building transforms our understanding of place, and through the act of building we create places for our understanding and the space of dwelling. From this standpoint, the base is not the simple combination of the structural necessity of footings on the one hand and the ceremonial obligation of a place to stand on the other hand; rather, the base serves precisely to bring the bell tower into the world, to lift up and bring forth the place that is the bell tower – to gather the divinities, as Heidegger would have it.”
Mark arrived in early July – on summer break from his PhD program in landscape architecture at University of Washington! – to do the main site work.
We love having Mark around Green Gulch. He delights in moving soil with an excavator, does beautiful work, and he loves to clean up the old chunks of concrete and debris scattered around Green Gulch (which he did during his “down time” on this trip).
Preparing the site involved changes to the grade of the central area, moving tens of tons of soil and creating a finished grade, ready to be landscaped:
The square holes are for footings for the vertical support beams for the roof of the structure, and are ten feet apart. The perimeter of the base is fifteen feet by fifteen feet. (Green Gulch residents Frank and Dusty enjoyed visiting the construction site.)
Granite was selected as the material for the perimeter of the base and stairs, in reference to the granite steps that lead to the Tea House gate, which is close to the structure. (The gate, below, was designed and built by Mike Laine.):
It arrived a few days after Mark did:
Granite beams defining the perimeter of the base were placed, and footings were poured for the foundation-stones; the base was then partially filled with gravel, and the concrete slab was poured. The GGF maintenance crew assisted with the work.
Mark and Julian placing and leveling the granite:
Before and after the first, structural concrete pour:
The concrete team: Justin, Mark, and Reed:
The partially completed base, as seen from the top of the stair down to the Zendo:
Mark then built the walkway and stairs up to the platform:
When this was completed they did the final concrete pour. Mark and Reed did a beautiful job finishing it:
After an initial rough-wash with acid the slab was allowed to cure for several weeks, at which point Mark returned to do the finishing touches of grinding the concrete surface and one final acid-wash.
He had this to say about the concrete floor:
“The philosophical conception of the role of the bell tower meets the actual physical being of the bell tower most acutely at the created ground that is the base: the floor. We are all attached to the ground, not only visually, but physically. During the consideration of the floor, the major influence for my considerations was a type of lime-clay mortar that has been used in Japan for centuries. This mortar is very similar to mortars that have been used in Europe, and the Japanese mortars share the property of remaining porous, pliable, and responsive to human travels. There is also a lustre to these surfaces that is almost invariably absent from finished concrete. However, these mortars are an unknown quantity in California; even in Japan they demand regular repair and replacement. Working with a concrete was a pragmatic necessity, so the challenge was to achieve the dynamic sense of a mortar floor, with the durability of concrete.
I decided to pursue an experiment in this regard: in pouring the slab for the floor, the finish was intentionally left imperfect. Once the slab had cured it was finished with a hand grinder, in order to create a surface that is smooth and has some of the luster of lime-clay mortar, while also rewarding our bodies with the sense that we are still attached to the earth.”
Mark, using a diamond pad on a hand grinder to finish the surface:
The finished pad: