NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Crain Construction and Tuck Hinton Architects teamed to build Kyūbu, a cube-shaped, Japanese-inspired playhouse, and one of six interactive playhouses on display at Cheekwood through September 4.

Playhouses representing Japan, India, Spain, Scotland and Chile were designed to represent the architecture of the global destinations the Cheek family visited in the early 20th Century.

Translated in Japanese, “cube” is pronounced Kyūbu, hence the name given to the playhouse. The structure is built with standard pressure treated 2×4 and 4×4 lumber and the connections are bolted together. Through the use of natural wood members and unique joinery, the construction of the Kyūbu playhouse aims to honor traditional Japanese design.

“Joinery is very important in Japanese architecture,” said Janie Wright with Tuck Hinton Architects. “Once we selected Japan, we looked at the simple form of a Japanese teahouse and how the square structure directs circulation and organizes space.”

Intentionally positioned directly across from Cheekwood’s Japanese Garden and next to the multi-level ponds with flowing waterfalls, the playhouse features three red tunnels that stand out from the green landscape and draw Cheekwood visitors in for a closer look. As you wind through the three-dimensional maze a different view is framed by the wood structure.

Tatami mats, used in traditional Japanese rituals and ceremonies, are the inspiration for the red tunnels or boxes that guide circulation and are a destination within the playhouse. Like entering a teahouse, the lower tunnel requires entering on knees. The central vertical tunnel is the hearth and the top tunnel looks out to the entrance of the Japanese garden.

“The simplicity of the design based on a modular grid creates an interesting rhythm and order contrasting with the natural backdrop of the pond and surrounding landscape,” said Jeff Kurzhal, Crain Construction project manager.

Each wood joint is constructed around a central connector cube, which allows wood members to run uninterrupted in all three directions.

“One of the interesting design features is the wood connector block, which when assembled is not visible,” said Kurzhal. “It is a 3 ½-inch cube which has two bolt holes on each side. It acts as a spacer and stabilizer connecting the horizontal and vertical boards together.”

According to Kurzhal, 100 connector blocks were used in the structure. The blocks allowed the use of 2×4 boards, without having to cut them down to size. This resulted in efficient use of materials. The wood columns are attached to temporary concrete post anchors so kids can climb on the outside, inside and on top of the cube.

Tuck Hinton Architects designed the cube playhouse, one of the six playhouse designs selected by a juried panel from entries submitted by area architects, landscape architects and artists interpreting the Cheek family’s travels documented in newspaper clips and journals.

About 30 volunteers from Tuck Hinton Architects and Crain Construction participated in eight different planning, pre-build and onsite build events. This is the second year the two companies have collaborated to build an interactive structure for Cheekwood.