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Exhibition on Life and Career of Renowned Nisei Landscape Architect Kaneji Domoto

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From left: Resnick, Wright, Henken, unidentified man, Kaneji Domoto, Pleasantville, N.Y., circa 1949. Photo by Pedro E. Guerrero, copyright The estate of Pedro E. Guerrero.

BERKELEY — Renowned Nisei landscape architect and architect Kaneji Domoto’s life and work is the focus of a retrospective exhibit that opened Aug. 19 at the UC Berkeley Environmental Design Library.

The exhibition pulls from original correspondence, photographs, and drawings from the Domoto Collection that were recently processed by the Environmental Design Archives. The exhibit surveys Domoto’s life, including his apprenticeship and architectural work at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin studio in Wisconsin pre-war, and his architectural achievements at Wright’s Usoinan Community in New York, post-war.

The exhibit also explores what it meant to be a mid-century Japanese American architect and how Domoto’s life experience and Japanese heritage influenced his work — illuminating the intersections between race, the designed environment, power, inequality, access, and ability.

Kaneji Domoto relaxing at Usonia, Pleasantville, New York, photo undated. Photo by Jack Holme.

Domoto, born in Oakland on Nov. 5, 1912, studied physics at Stanford and architecture at UC Berkeley before he joined architect Wright in 1939 as an apprentice. He eventually left Wright to return to the West Coast to help with the family’s nursery business, Domoto Brothers Nursery. The nursery was founded in the 1880s in Oakland and eventually grew to be the largest plant nursery in California.

The Domoto family mentored numerous other nurserymen and women, which earned the nursery the nickname “the Domoto College,” and was central to the flower and landscaping industry that flourished in pre-war East Bay.

With the advent of World War II at the signing of Executive Order 9066, Domoto and his wife, Sally Fujii, and daughter, Mikiko (Miki), were incarcerated at the WWII American concentration camp at Amache, Colo., where he became a member of the camp construction crew — work he later credited with teaching him the basic methods of construction.

Kaneji Domoto, Scarsdale, N.Y., photo undated. Family photo collection.

His son, Kanezo (Anyo), was born at Amache. He was released from Amache and moved to New Rochelle, N.Y., where he found work as an architect and draughtsman. Two more children, Katherine and Kris, were born in New York. Domoto and his wife chose to move to the East Coast to build his practice and raise their family.

Over time, Domoto built a successful career with a largely Caucasian client base who appreciated his knowledge of Japanese landscape and architectural elements. His remarkable career included designing more than 700 residential, commercial and educational projects, including dozens of gardens on the East Coast, incorporating gravel and other Japanese garden elements in large corporate landscapes, including landscapes in malls.

Domoto died on Jan. 27, 2002.

Kaneji Domoto with his parents and siblings in Oakland, circa 1916. Family photo collection.

A free public program related to the Domoto exhibition will be held in the UC Berkeley Wurster Hall Auditorium, Room 112, on Sept. 26, with a panel discussion on Domoto’s pre-war and post-war career and his history of activism and involvement in redress. The panel will also cover the influence the Domoto family had on the flower industry and will feature Gary Kawaguchi (author of “Living with Flowers,” a history of the San Francisco Flower Market), Gail Dubrow (University of Minnesota professor researching Japanese American architects), and Domoto family members. A reception will be held prior to the panel.

This exhibition is funded by the Arcus Endowment through the Diversity Platforms Committee of the College of Environmental Design and will be on view in Wurster Hall, Room 210, through Dec. 16. For more information, call (510) 642-5124 or [email protected]

Kaneji Domoto looking at the Arthur and Gertrude Bier house under construction, Usonia Site #53, circa 1948. Kaneji Domoto Collection, Environmental Design Archives.

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