In collaboration with some of the best architects of the day, Kahn designed a ten-acre garden that takes visitors on a virtual tour of the world in a matter of a few hours. Seven distinct ecosystems were represented in this collector’s garden: a French-style orchard and rose garden, a Vosges Mountain forest complete with fir trees and granite boulders, an English garden complete with a cottage and a meandering river, and a blue forest complete with Atlas cedars and Colorado spruces. There was a red bridge, a smaller version of the famed Shinkyo Bridge in Nikko, and a river winding through a Japanese garden with maples and weeping beeches.
About Albert Kahn
Albert Kahn (1860-1940) was a banker, humanist, and benefactor who envisioned peaceful coexistence among many cultures. His vision for the four hectares of land he formerly owned in Boulogne-Billancourt is coming to life. The museum’s surroundings are a romantic refuge of Japanese, English, and French gardens, flowers, and fruit trees. A new exhibition featuring his 72,000 color pictures and 180,000 meters of silent films shot in locations all over the world between 1909 and 1931 opens every year. The museum’s permanent exhibition spans an area of 1,000 square meters, both inside the structure constructed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and outside in the museum’s grounds.
With the help of gardeners he recruited from around the world, Albert Kahn was able to achieve his lifelong ambition of recreating gardens from each of the five continents.
The Great Depression of 1929 shattered the dream. After losing everything, Albert Kahn had to send his employees home and had his Boulogne-Billancourt property confiscated. The benefactor, however, was permitted to stay there, and he lived out his last years there as “a ghost within its walls” until his death on November 14, 1940. Since the Nazi invaders knew he was Jewish, they dumped his body in a communal burial. The gardens and his collections were officially recognized in 1986 when they were designated as a Museum of France.
The exhibit area was planned as a long linear progression, inspired by the winding paths in this garden. As the walkway undulates horizontally and vertically, an aluminum and wood screen is installed to mediate the interaction between the path and the surrounding environment. By bringing together nature and structure, Albert Kahn was able to realize his vision of a garden that doubled as an exhibition venue.
The city side exterior is predominantly aluminum, whereas the garden side envelope is predominantly wood, with some gradational mixing of these two materials. This provides the structure with a living skin that can respond to and even help shape its surrounding ecosystems.
The Albert Kahn Garden Guide & Its Different Sections
Albert Kahn honored the Vosges woodland, where he spent his formative years, by recreating it in one of his gardens. Under the cover of the surrounding mountains, you’ll find a real forest with granite boulders strewn over the dirt paths.
As you emerge from the woods, a grassy field opens out before you, flanked by a second forest whose foliage reflects the changing of the seasons. In the spring, vivid yellow spruce leaves greet you; in the fall, golden birch needles do. The trees and flowers growing wild in the meadow provide the landscape an abundance of vibrant color.
As you enter the blue forest, you’ll be greeted by the intimate blue of the American Atlas Cedars and Colorado Spruces. Take some time to appreciate the seasonal changes in the plant life beneath these towering trees.
After that, we’ll head to the French garden. In front of a big greenhouse that is still in the process of being built, we see three geometrical blocks that are typical of French gardens. The landscaping has rose bushes, fruit trees, herb gardens, and flower beds. Its orderly layout is emphasized by the two rows of lime and chestnut trees that frame its edges. The late-19th-century decorative greenhouse is a marvel of ironwork, and it houses a winter garden.
The English garden, as opposed to the French garden, features luxuriant flora that is produced to simulate nature. The cottage is one of the surviving structures from the old settlement. A short stream winds its way through the lawn and into a small pool, and the fountain has a carved picture from a La Fontaine tale.
The highlight of the journey is a visit to the Land of the Rising Sun at the end of the walk. The first section of this peninsula garden is a historic village designed in a classical style. The second depicts modern-day Japan as a tribute to Albert Kahn and his extraordinary willingness to engage with the globe.
The journey to Japan at the century’s end inspired the construction of the Japanese village. Albert Kahn commissioned a team of Japanese painters to come and envision the site’s layout and plantings before it was built. Two authentic Japanese homes and a teahouse are waiting for us to explore. We can’t help but be swept away by the allure of this surprisingly private and bright interior.
We then move on to Fumiaki Takano’s Contemporary Japanese Garden, which was built in the 1990s as a memorial to the architect Albert Kahn. The crimson bridge first catches the attention, and the vibrant flowers and water, through which magnificent carps of all hues swim, further entice us. Albert Kahn’s life is represented by the flow of water through the garden.
When to Visit the Albert Kahn Garden
The museum and garden are closed on Mondays but open every other day. Open 1st October – 30th April, 11am – 18pm, and 1st May – 30th September, 11am – 19pm. On December 25 and January 1, the gardens will be closed. This garden may be found in the western Parisian neighborhood of Boulogne-Billancourt.
The Albert Kahn Gardens and Museum are open to the public for 4 euros per adult and free for children under 18 and On the first Sunday of each month, admission is free for everyone.