Murase was born in San Francisco as a third generation Japanese-American. Murase graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a BLA in landscape architecture. He was hired by Robert Royston & Associates in 1965. To further enrich his experience in the landscape architecture field Murase moved to Japan, where he maintained a practice for almost 10 years conducting garden research at Kyoto University. He then moved to Portland to become a local Oregonian. He taught at the University of Oregon's Department of Landscape Architecture for a few years and then he worked for the EDAW in Portland, OR. In 1982, he formed Murase Associates in Portland, and opened a Seattle office in 1989. His firm went on to win about 50 design awards. He was a fellow member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and honorary member of AIA Seattle.
Designs and influences
Murase found roots in his own ancestry where he incorporated the elements that are often found in Japanese gardens. His signature material was stone, strongly influenced from stone sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The Japanese American Historical Plaza along Portland's waterfront was strongly influenced by the internment camp of 110,000 Japanese-Americans. He was relocated from San Francisco and interned at the Topaz War Relocation Center along with his parents as a child. He influenced others by being a guest speaker at universities, museums, and other institutions. He recently authored Touching the Stones, a book tracing 100 years of Japanese American history, which is based on his design of the Japanese American Historical Plaza.
Robert Murase died at age 66 from heart attack complications. Robert was known as a true artist who had soul, where his works were poetical and often spiritual due to the emotional thought process he had with designing sites. Influenced by his Japanese heritage, Robert used elements that mimicked nature. "I always considered him a poet of stone and water," stated by John Nesholm of LMN Architects.
Murase is well known for skillful and sublime compositions of stone, evident of an empathetic relation to the medium. However, he was arguably more adept at infusing sites with a sense of the spiritual (e.g. mystery, stillness, serenity, power, primordiality, reverence) despite whatever commotion surrounded it. This may be attributed to over a decade of self-directed exploration of Japanese artistic traditions, most notably garden design. He was greatly influenced by the artistic traditions of the Muromachi Period of 16th century Japan, when Zen flourished (subsequently influencing, transforming or leading to the creation of numerous art forms).
“What attracts me to Japanese gardens lies in the essence of quietness which they express; their meditative emptiness, the illusion of nature, the effects of shadow and filtered light, and their stark simplicity. These gardens provide a sense of “wabi,” the absence of any ostentatious element, and a sense of humility and melancholy. There is a dark, mysterious quality about them, an undiscoverable unknown which goes beyond our individual small self, which could be described as “yugen” in Japanese. These are some of the qualities I strive to express in the design process", Murase elaborates on Japanese garden design and its influence on his process.
Murase took pride in many of his projects; but, according to colleagues, he was proudest of the Japanese American Historical Plaza along Portland's waterfront. Other projects include:
- Astoria Waterfront Redevelopment, Astoria, Oregon.
- Esther Short Park in Vancouver.
- Garden of Remembrance downtown Seattle.
- Goose Hollow/SW Jefferson St MAX light rail station, Portland, Oregon.
- Grand Canyon transit center.
- Japanese American Historical Plaza, Portland, Oregon.
- Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles.
- Murase Plaza at Wilsonville Memorial Park, Wilsonville, Oregon.
- OMSI's bioswales, Portland, Oregon.
- Oregon Convention Center's forecourt, Portland, Oregon.
- Pier 69 headquarters of the Port of Seattle.
- St. Croix National Scenic Riverway in Wisconsin.
- Sumitomo Museum in Kyoto, Japan.
- Sunset Transit Center landscape, near Portland, Oregon.
- Town Center Park, Wilsonville, Oregon.
- Bennett, Sam. "Robert Murase: 'a poet of stone and water'," Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. July 21, 2005.
- LandscapeOnline.com: Moment of Silence–Robert K. Murase, FASLA.
- Brown, Charles E. "Robert Murase, 66, noted landscape architect," Seattle Times. July 23, 2005.
- Gragg, Randy (July 24, 2005). "Landscape spirit". The Oregonian. pp. D1.