Kintsugi Garden: The Meaning of Mending



Seattle, WA | Biruk Belay Yoseph, Assoc ASLA; Janice Chen, Assoc. ASLA; Cami Culbertson, Assoc. ASLA; Ann Dinthongsal, Assoc. ASLA; Lindsey Gadbois, Assoc. ASLA; Alyse Wright, Assoc. ASLA; Shih-Chia Chiu, Student ASLA; Machiyo Fujii, Student ASLA; Graham Golbuff, Student ASLA; Shu-Kuei Hsu, Assoc. ASLA; Shaoxuan Zhou, Student ASLA; Xiaoyang Zhu, Student ASLA | Undergraduate / Graduate | Faculty Advisor: Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA; Jeremy Watson | University of Virginia


The Kintsugi Garden serves this Seattle community with a healing garden that offers recognition and solace for those who endured Japanese American Internment Camps. The garden enhances the capacity of the JCCCW to fulfill its mission and to bring diverse communities together for celebrations. Incorporating an urban ecological approach the garden treats storm water on site. The design team collaborated closely with the community to develop a functional, versatile, spiritually meaningful, ecologically restorative and historically symbolic garden.


“There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.” ― Leonard Cohen

At the Southeastern rim of downtown Seattle, between the rail and the interstate, the Japanese Community Cultural Center of Washington [JCCCW] stands as a discrete nexus of history that continues to resonate. A vital piece of Seattle’s Nihomachi, or Japantown, the JCCCW was a refuge for those who lost everything in the Internment Camps of WWII. Today it perpetuates the legacy of the perseverance of these Japanese-Americans by engaging a broad and diverse community in celebrating Japanese heritage and fostering cross cultural exchange.

In January 2014, a group of nine third-year Bachelors of Landscape Architecture students, partnered with the JCCCW to transform a steep and narrow side lot into a garden for contemplation, celebration and memorialization. In the participatory design process students and community members attained a balance between two sets of complimentary goals. The JCCCW wished to (1) preserve Japanese/Japanese American culture and heritage, (2) create a large gathering space for special events, as well as daily activity, that welcomes the diversity of the community, and (3) honor the Issei, Nessei, and Sansei generations of Japanese Americans. The students strove to (1) infuse Japanese traditions with Pacific Northwest design sensibilities, (2) create a place of healing for people and nature, through urban ecological design, and (3) express the JCCCW's unique role in the community.

The design team held four community meetings. The first was introductory; the second engaged the community to express their design values via preference posters, interactive word association games, and personal interviews. Students also researched precedents by visits to nearby Japanese Gardens and by the study of Japanese art and Japanese American history. Design teams developed four distinct design options, and these were presented at the third community meeting. Components from each were incorporated into the final alternative. Many decisions were refined to accommodate the challenging topography. Students made calculations to size the rain garden based on the water capacity of the site. Before breaking ground, the design team presented to the community one last time for their approval.

During the construction process, eight MLA students joined the nine BLA students. Simultaneously site excavation and shop fabrication began. Transferring ideas formed on paper into the field took time and determination. Students welded shelter supports, debarked cedar limbs, and built gabions as retaining walls. The students erected a framework of black steel supports to form a vertical warp for the shelter’s basket like structure. They wove red stained cedar boards through the steel warp to complete the curved gathering pavilion. Students milled, laid and anchored brass plate to the plaza, and scribed and cut bluestone pavers to fit the brass inlay. A wood entry sign was hand carved with the garden’s name.

The plaza's paving reveals the designs driving narrative, tied to a deeply held belief about healing and restoration materially expressed in Japanese art. Kintsugi is a 500 year-old tradition of mending broken pottery with gold; the disruption or fissure rather than being hidden, is recognized and acquires meaning and renewed strength and beauty. So the disruption of the Japanese American community, their relocation from Seattle, WA to Minidoka, ID is recognized and memorialized in the garden, named Kintsugi for the mending tradition. A brass inlay in a fissure pattern is seamed with the bluestone pavers and travels between two basalt columns marking the journey of the interned.

The garden as a whole is a mending seam in the landscape, which now hosts a terraced swath of native plants and 3 specimen Japanese Cherry trees. The slope descends to a rain garden at the entry that cleans and infiltrates the storm water, which once rushed through the site into the alley. Polished black basalt columns mark the entry and accentuate the garden. The beauty of this material is a remembered feature of the impressive gardens created in the Japanese American interment camps. Following the Japanese tradition of avoiding straight lines, the entry path jogs creating a sense of procession and journey.

The design team collaborated closely with this unique community to establish a garden and gathering place that is versatile, spiritually meaningful, ecologically healing and historically symbolic. The Kintsugi garden evokes Japanese tradition, craft and materiality. It is an intergenerational/intercultural landscape of resilience, one that is cherished by the elderly passing below with their shopping bags and by the children peering out of classroom windows from above.

"Having texture and materials could make a powerful contribution to the mental health and well being of this elderly community."

- 2015 Awards Jury


Chiu-Hau Chang; Eunice Lo; Caitlin J Lockhart; Brando Reece-Gomez; Jun Zhang;