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2012 Nikkei Manor

Project Statement

Using a client-based participatory design process University of Washington Landscape Architecture Design-Build students used their skills and creativity to build a garden that addressed the needs of these unique elderly Japanese American residents Through the collaboration of the design team and the residents and staff, the “Ichi-Go Ichi-E” garden integrates the therapeutic and restorative benefits of nature, references important cultural traditions and provides complete access to the elderly users. The “Ichi-Go Ichi-E” garden, meaning “One time, one meeting,” necessitated a series of dynamic and challenging interactions between student and residents, student and design, and ultimately between design and building. The resulting garden nurtures contemplation, growth, rehabilitation and renewal.

Project Narrative

Nikkei Manor, an assisted living community in Seattle, Washington serving over fifty elderly Japanese Americans. Nikkei Manor utilizes collective and individual spaces for residents, staff, and family members and for members of, Kokkori Kai their day program. In addition Nikkei Manor utilizes adjacent courtyard as an outdoor space for the surrounding community. Prior to this project, the courtyard was under-utilized and difficult to access. There was minimal seating, and latter a sink hole prohibited use by the residents. The client expressed the need for the garden to remain adaptable to accommodate both group and individual programming for residents, visitors, or staff. The garden had to balance concerns of accessibility (for clients with limited mobility) with the desire to create a peaceful and tranquil environment. Over ten weeks, the student team worked to refine a design process that effectively communicated the desires of the client to the designers. Students arranged client meetings, conceptualized and presented five design proposals, and synthesized these into one design, culminating in a complete set of construction documents. In the following ten weeks, the student team constructed the “Ichi-Go Ichi-E” garden.

Design Program

The primary objective was to create a space that increased the health, happiness, and well-being of Nikkei Manor residents. Secondary goals included ways to encourage residents to explore the outdoors while sustaining feelings of safety and security, facilitate group activity, and offer a pleasant space for residents to host their visitors. It was important to the client that this space incorporated smaller tranquil areas while accommodating larger groups as needed. Nikkei Manor currently offers arts and crafts, drum circles, games, and celebrations—all events that can now take place in the courtyard. The garden also encourages socialization with others while interacting with nature.

Design Intent

The garden begins at its gated entrance, a sliding wooden gate beneath a carved sign reading, “Ichi-Go Ichi-E”. In front and to the side of the gate are two steel screens with cutouts of siloqueted cranes. These momentarily restrict views into the space and ensure security. The path into the garden winds through these screens alters the user’s direction into the garden, extending the experience at the entrance before the visitor comes upon the courtyard space. The ground plane at this location is compacted crushed aggregate set between a banding of pavers. This textural difference acts as a tactile warning for those transitioning to and from the garden. The open courtyard is lined with linear benches set among lush plantings along either side. An existing, mature cherry tree grows in the northeast corner, framing the view while providing shade to the residents during the sunnier months. Plantings extend beyond the sides of the benches and into a raised bed along the border of the adjacent property. Placed between these benches are a series of steel planter boxes and water feature. Which offers a sensory experience for the residents and buffering the noise from the surrounding streets? The entrance to the garden from the Nikkei Manor building is located directly across from this fountain, creating a focal point for the residents as they enter into the space.

Residents are encouraged to interact with others and this flexible space allows them to do so at a variety of scales. The edge of this courtyard is defined on its southern end by a raised planting bed with built in benches. The simple division of spaces supports individual experience through smaller niches and encourages exploration of the rest of the garden. Along either side of this central planting bed are two ramps leading up to a raised deck, framed along its edges with additional benches. These benches face towards the southern corner of the garden and a pergola-covered area flanking this space is enclosed on two sides with wooden screens and hidden gardens. This part of the courtyard receives the most sunlight and the pergola provides additional shade for the residents. Wooden shelves are suspended along these screens providing a place for residents to display their own potted plants. In various locations windows carved among the wooden slats reveal the smaller gardens beyond the deck. While the “Ichi-Go Ichi-E” garden is limited in size, it is full of places to discover and enjoy. It is now a gathering place for events and an intimate space to explore with friends and family. The entire space is accessible to the handicapped, fully equipped with handrails along all walking paths extending along the back of each bench. Each element constructed and installed on site had the resident’s safety in mind and a healthier lifestyle as its goal.



Students worked for twenty weeks under the direction of their instructors and teaching assistant to complete the design and build project. Work included community outreach and input (2 weeks), schematic design and final design development (4 weeks), construction documents (4 weeks), demolition (2 weeks), and construction (8 weeks). The process began with site visits to examine the existing conditions, opportunities, and limitations of the site. An interactive input session was held to gather information regarding design aesthetics, program elements, and the specific desires of the client. These sessions were open to staff, caregivers, residents and their family members. Though many Nikkei do not speak English, the students were able to creatively gather information through visual aids and participatory activities. Students conceived schematic designs by incorporating programmatic elements and presented these two board members and staff. Demolition included removing all existing vegetation, concrete slabs, and infrastructure. Construction began with the layout of formwork for concrete planters and bases for each of the benches. As these new forms gave shape to the courtyard, each additional element was a testament to the intricate planning and detailing by the students, and their enthusiasm to see their design visualized. All elements on site were designed and built by the students, professor and teaching assistant. After the construction of all wooden infrastructures, pouring of concrete, installation of water elements and vegetation, and fabrication of all steel planters, fountain, bench framework in the university’s metal shop, the Ichi-Go Ichi-E opened to the community of Nikkei Manor.