Sunday, April 17, 2011

Arigato gozaimasu Japan!

PechaKucha was devised in Tokyo in February 2003 as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public. It has turned into a massive celebration, with events happening in hundreds of cities around the world, inspiring creative worldwide. Drawing its name from the Japanese term for the sound of "chit chat", it rests on a presentation format that is based on a simple idea: 20 images x 20 seconds. It's a format that makes presentations concise, and keeps things moving at a rapid pace. 

This month's PechaKucha was a special world wide fundraiser for the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, with the theme "Inspire Japan." 
I was invited to present my work and even though it was lots of work to prepare I was very happy to thread the story of how I have been inspired by Japan to do the work that I do. It was beautiful to have an opportunity to go back and look through my over 2000 pictures of Japan and remember my time in that beautiful country.

Here is the 20 slides that I created and the text for each slide below.

When I was being born and my family was waiting for me looking at babies in the nursery room, my grandfather kept commenting on the cute Japanese baby. When the nurse came out to correct him, I was the Japanese baby.

Well, I’m not Japanese, I just have small eyes. But that has not kept me from fully embracing Japanese culture.  Geisha and Hello Kitty are just some of the characters that I have impersonated and I often dream of becoming an anime heroine and fly the skies with Astro boy. 

.My first summer of graduate school I went to Kyoto to study Japanese gardens. I was in heaven, spending my days strolling through some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. There are 4 basic types of gardens in Japan: Pond garden, Zen garden, Tea ceremony and Paradise garden.

However most of them share elements, particularly as it relates to traditional Japanese architecture built to frame the landscape, and the raised floor which can be used for sitting and observing. This creates a connection with nature, a place to contemplate the change of the seasons.

Another characteristic of Japanese architecture is no walls, so the inside and the outside are always connected. The landscape is intended to be seen from a seating position; the layout design of the tatami mat is an important element of the space. 

Paths are an important element of the garden, they are set in a naturalistic way to make you feel as if you are in the country side, a place to relax and forget the city. Paths create the transition mood in people to prepare them for the tea ceremony. Stepping stones need to be placed for short stride considering a woman in a Kimono.

Barrowed scenery is another common element where gardens take advantage of the mountains beyond the property. Beyond the walls of the rock garden are cherries, maple, evergreen trees and pines that change through the seasons.

Zen gardens represent different elements in nature. Gravel represents the ocean; the racking represents the ripples in the water. Rocks represent  mountains or different animals based on their arrangement and the mounds of grass represent the land.

You must always have a washing basin in front of the tea house to wash hands and mouth to purify yourself before having tea. Another important element is having a place for fire to heat the water and a sink to wash the bowls.

My first real project out of school was a play area for a school in Tokyo. The project senior designer of the project said to me “you have been to Japan and studies gardens, you can design a tea house right?” And I confidently nodded but ran back to look at my notes in panic. This was exciting and yet terrifying. 

The tea house for this project was to be an outdoor classroom and the garden a play area with borrowed scenery of play equipment. The tea house had to stand to the test of hundreds of kids, and meet American ADA regulations so traditional materials like paper walls and paths with stepping stones were out of the question.

We tried to incorporate as many traditional elements in our outdoor classroom/ tea house but using different materials and being creative about the representation. The wash basing was a rain water catchment. The path was an ADA ramp to the elevated platform. The concrete floor was scored in the same size and pattern as a tatami mat.

Our garden had a climbing wall and a play mountain to provide space for seating and gathering. A “river” flowed from the mountain into an ocean of sand play area with rippling concrete colors. Instead of stepping stones there were characters scored in the concrete.

Working on this project was great but it also confronted me with the realities of working for a landscape design studio – Lots of time in front of the computer! As I searched my notes and looked through my pictures I kept being reminded of the Japanese idea of connecting people with nature, building restaurants on top of rivers, eating next to waterfalls.

Eating with and in nature, growing food in the city. Feeling nature, being surrounded by it. I realized how much I needed that connection with nature in my own life. So I began searching for land and during a winter storm a fence was blown away revealing an empty lot 2 blocks away from my work.

I meet the neighbor of the empty lot who had been dreaming about doing something with it. Together we designed and drafter a phasing plans to present to the owners. They liked the idea but had some liability concerns so we got a legal agreement and they allowed us to use the space to grow food.

We had lots of help from friends and neighbors to convert the space into a beautiful garden. We composted to build soil nutrients, planted seeds, got chickens and bees and created a habitat for pollinators.

After two years we had an abundance of food from the garden, more that we could eat. So inspired by the Japanese idea of eating in nature, my friend Julia and I started the Algarden café, an informal Friday lunch at the garden with food from the garden.

The lunch is an opportunity to show people how the vegetable plants look while they are growing, their benefits to the garden and their nutritional value. Mostly the lunches are a way to expose people to local, organic, fresh flavors, get them excited about growing their own food and outside connecting with nature and one another.

Food is the gateway drug to a more sustainable life style. You start to become aware of the cycles of nature, the moon, the seasons, and climate. It changes your behavior.
I got inspired by Japan to do this work and I hope my work can inspire Japan to rebuild and restore its beautiful nation.

Thank you

Arigato gozaimasu Japan!


Georgia said...

Congratulations Patricia! Beautiful 20 x20.

-- Georgia

p.s. could I include your tea house playground design on my tea blog (

Algarden said...

Thank you Georgia.
Yes you can definitely use the tea house playground for your blog. Let me know if you need more info. or pictures.

theubiquitousmick said...

I second that: this is really beautiful Patricia. The photo, the food, the history, the whole thing is great. Love it!
Good for you BFF. :)