TONY COOTE (architecture) is a Sydney architect who has been fascinated by Japanese architecture and culture for over forty years. He is a long-time member of the Sydney Zen Centre, and the designer of the Kodoji Zen retreat near St Albans which he has been helping to build since 1984.

I came to Japan via Zen Buddhism.  In 1980 I attended my first seven-day Zen retreat, led by American Zen teacher Robert Aitken Roshi and afterwards became a member of the Sydney Zen Centre, which had organised the retreat.

A year later the American poet Gary Snyder gave a reading for SZC and mentioned that his Zen group, The Ring of Bone Zendo, was about to embark on a Dojo building project in Northern California and would welcome any volunteers from Australia.

Gilly, my wife, and I leapt at the chance.  We travelled to America via Japan where we visited a number of Zen temples associated with Aitken Roshi’s lineage and where I had my first encounter with Japanese traditional architecture, which was a revelation.

Building the Zendo in America was a wonderful experience of community and introduced us to a way of building using volunteer labour that has its roots in the American tradition of barn raising.

This was the genesis of the building of the Zen Centre at Kodoji, which began in 1984 after the Sydney Zen Centre, with donations and interest-free loans from its members, bought land at Gorricks Run near St Albans.