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Saturday, July 23, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Robert Murase, 66, noted landscape architect

Seattle Times staff reporter

From his condominium in downtown Seattle, Robert Murase was only blocks away from one of his signature projects: the Garden of Remembrance outside Benaroya Hall, which features a stream of water and walkways that draw visitors into a contemplative oasis.

While the project was on the drawing board, some skeptics questioned whether such a tranquil space could be successful in a downtown setting. Mr. Murase had no doubts — not before it was completed and certainly not after it was dedicated in 1998 — said his wife, Judy Murase.

"It became one of his favorite places," she said.

Mr. Murase, a Northwest landscape architect noted for projects with Japanese-influenced designs, died Monday from complications of a heart attack. He was 66.

"He had an intuitive understanding of stone and water and plant material. He had a way of putting it all together," said Mark Tilbe, office manager at Murase Associates, Mr. Murase's 10-person Seattle office in the Eastlake area. The firm's principal office is in Portland.

Mr. Murase's design career had spanned four decades. Since 1982, Mr. Murase's firms have specialized in urban design, planning and landscape architectural services for a variety of public and private clients.

As designer of the Garden of Remembrance, a half-acre L-shaped garden along the south and west sides of Benaroya Hall, Mr. Murase successfully meshed memorial walls of granite listing names of Washington state war dead with reflective pools, trees, flower beds, cascading water and stone benches to provide an environment for contemplation. The project was conceived and funded by the late philanthropist Patsy Bullitt Collins.

Among his other projects were the Japanese-style Yao Garden addition to the botanical gardens at Wilburton Hill Community Park in Bellevue a decade ago. The project had been hailed as an interpretation of a Japanese garden, blending tradition and contemporary Northwest.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's new south terminal international arrival hall, Mr. Murase's design of a large rock-and-water sculpture that originates in the atrium and continues beneath the glass wall to an outside walkway was dedicated last year.

He also designed projects for the Pier 69 headquarters of the Port of Seattle, for Microsoft's Redmond West campus and for Safeco's Redmond campus.

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"He didn't try to copy nature. He used abstract forms to relate the rugged grandeur of Northwest geology and hydrology," Tilbe said. "He would guide the placement of almost every stone in a project."

Mr. Murase was a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects. His firm has won about 50 design awards. Besides the United States, his work also can be found in Japan, the Pacific Basin and the Caribbean, and his projects have been featured in architectural magazines, journals and books in America, Europe and Japan.

Born in San Francisco, Mr. Murase had been confined in a Utah internment camp along with his parents and grandparents in the early 1940s. After World War II, his family returned from the camp to San Francisco. In his teens, he worked for his uncle, a landscape contractor. He went on to study landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.

He taught landscape architecture at the University of Oregon for three years and worked with a Portland firm in the early 1980s before establishing his own Portland office in 1982. He opened the Seattle office in 1987, his wife said.

Also surviving are two sons, Scott Murase of Portland, and Shawn Murase of Tokyo; a daughter, Aya, of Portland; Mr. Murase's mother, Yoneko Murase of San Francisco; and three brothers, Thomas Murase of Oakland, Calif., Donald Murase of San Francisco and Marvin Murase of Carmichael, Calif.

Arrangements for a memorial service in Seattle are pending.

Charles E. Brown: 206-464-2206 or cbrown@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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