Kay McFarland Japanese Garden

Through the enthusiastic support of Kansas Supreme Court Justice, the late Kay McFarland, the Topeka Zoo established a world-class Japanese garden and event space. Studio Tectonic provided design, content development and complete implementation services for the interior exhibit as well exterior signage.

Japanese Gardens are a design language; one that’s not always easily accessible to the untrained eye. The exhibit focuses on unpacking the visual mysteries of the garden through the perspective of Koji Morimoto, the garden’s master designer. Interpretive graphics include striking nature photography and original drawings that express his vision. They explore the central components and philosophies of traditional Japanese gardens.


Topeka Zoo


Topeka, KS


Acme Scenic

GMLV Architecture, Wichita, KS

Exotic and Familiar

Experiencing the qualities of a Japanese garden is fundamentally about looking and sensing. Yet, they may also be simply enjoyed without a need to make particular meaning. To this end, the interpretation takes key aspects from a Japanese context and connects them poetically to the Kansas landscape. For instance, patterns of dry rock gardens are referenced in the patterns of wheat crops in agricultural Kansas. A Japanese seaside gate in Oarai Ibaraki stands juxtaposed to an iconic Kansas windmill. Powerful quotes from Japanese poets are set against statements by great Kansans such as Laura Ingalls Wilder.

This approach works to build an appreciation for the exotic while championing the familiar. It is a subtle effort to celebrate aspects of visitors’ own lives that may be under-appreciated.

Kay McFarland

The specialness of the garden, and its benefactor, Kay McFarland, are interpreted to honor the remarkable life of Kansas’ first female supreme court Justice. Justice McFarland was intimately involved in the garden’s concept and design. Her love of nature and gardens is matched to the uniqueness of her life as a maverick leader. Artifacts, photos, and a touch-screen interactive inspire visitors to appreciate Kay’s singular focus and determination.

  • Carved Wood Japanese Garden Sign
  • Carved Wood Japanese Garden Sign