UW Today

June 18, 2012

Winterbottom and students create new garden at Nikkei Manor

Nikkei Manor, an assisted-living community in Seattle, has a new garden designed and built by a group of UW landscape architecture students and their professors.

Nikkei Manor, an assisted-living community in Seattle, has a new garden designed and built by a group of UW landscape architecture students and their professors.Daniel Winterbottom

The new garden at Nikkei Manor represents the yin and yang of months-long conversation among UW students in landscape architecture, their teachers Daniel Winterbottom and Iain Robertson, and residents of an assisted-living community in Seattles International District.

To design and build the garden, conflicting needs had to be reconciled with grace, efficiency and imagination.

“We wanted to bring back a significant space for residents who have limited mobility,” said Winterbottom, an associate professor of landscape architecture who led 17 students in a senior-level design/build class.

Winterbottom and his group began with a long, narrow corridor, some 30 by 100 feet between Nikkei Manor, most of whose residents are Japanese-American, and a 14-foot high brick wall of a business immediately east on Maynard Street. At the rear of the property was a sinkhole, the result of crumbling debris left in the foundation of an old hotel. Additionally, the corridor doesnt get a whole lot of light and sometimes turns into a wind tunnel.

In focus groups, residents and their families said they needed both public and private space — room for drum concerts as well as quiet, intimate moments. They needed ways to navigate the garden with physical aids such as ramps and railings, but did not want aids obtrusive. They also wanted elements of Japanese gardens but nothing that would require the work of a Japanese master.

Winterbottom specializes in therapeutic gardens, inspired by time spent with his mother in a New Jersey garden when she was dying of cancer.

To begin the work at Nikkei Manor, a contractor filled in and stabilized the rear portion of the property where the sinkhole had been. Then, concrete was poured and scored with a student-created pattern resembling tatami mats.

As an entrance to the garden, Winterbottom and his students created a traditional Japanese gate, a series of long, narrow poles laced like a stand of bamboo. Circles of jade glass were inset along with three cranes representing youth, adulthood and old age. In Japanese tradition, cranes also represent both longevity and good fortune. Above the gate is an oblong chunk of driftwood inscribed “Ichigo Ichie,” which translates as “Treasure the Moment.”

In the front portion of the garden is open space for tables and gatherings. In the middle is a lotus fountain designed by the students. At the rear, in a covered corner, is a small meditation space anchored by a stone Buddha as well as evergreen and deciduous plantings. Railings allow residents to circumnavigate the entire garden, passing by shelves for potted plants at different levels. Amy Wagenfeld, an occupational therapist and visiting faculty member at the UW, helped make the design user-friendly.

Professors and students paid much attention to detail. The day before the June 7 dedication, students Myles Harvey and Talya ten Brink covered nail holes in the gate with putty the same terra cotta shade as the structure. Nearby, Michael Carey and Leanna Evatt smoothed sand into a narrow channel on the edge of the garden. For three years, said Evatt, “weve focused on design, but now weve had to think about whats practical, what we can actually build.”

“The students have been so terrific.” Said Nikkei manager Lisa Waisath. “Theyve been polite and professional — I can tell theyre passionate about what theyre doing.”

The students contributed design and labor, many of them working 20 to 30 hours per week since March. All told, the garden cost $75,000, paid for by Nikkei Manor.